STEM students break science barrier with presentation

Christina Williams & Colleen Suter
Christina Williams & Colleen Suter

Two Centralia College Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) scholarship students, Christina Williams and Colleen Suter, set a major milestone for themselves and the college when they presented their capstone research projects at the Northwest Scientific Association (NWSA), 84th annual conference held in March in Portland, Ore.

This was the first time community college students have been invited to present research to the NWSA since the organization’s inception in 1923, according to Pat Pringle, Centralia College professor of geology.

“This was an incredible opportunity for the students and a huge honor for the college,” Pringle said. “It gave them an opportunity to present scientific research like students at the undergraduate level do.”

The students presented scientific research on evidence of an earthquake dating back thousands of years. Their research may even suggest findings of a mega-thrust earthquake that was previously unknown.

Suter’s research focused on evidence of the prehistoric earthquake, which may have created a massive rock slide at Washington’s Glacier Lake.

Williams’s research focused on a submerged forest located in the Puget Sound lowlands.

Using Centralia College’s tree ring labs, one of only two such labs in the state, the students analyzed submerged fossilized tree ring samples to help date their findings.

“The opportunity for scientific research (at Centralia College) has been incredible,” Williams said. “The facilities at the college rival that of many large universities.”

Williams attended Centralia College in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) program, first earning her GED, and then earning her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) credential. She worked several years in that field then, at age 27, returned to college and earned an associate degree in chemistry. Williams will be attending WSU-Vancouver this fall to study neuroscience.

Suter attended Centralia College as a Running Start student more than a decade ago, but due to personal issues never continued on with her education. Now at 32, she has earned her associate degree in science.

Spurred on by environmentally caused health issues and a passion for the environment, Suter will be attending The Evergreen State College to study environmental toxicology.

“The science department and faculty are incredible,” Suter said. “The encouragement and support we received made all of the difference in just how far we were able to go in our education.”

Both students are 2013 honor graduates and were instrumental in establishing the Science Club. Both were instrumental in water quality testing of China Creek as it flows through the college’s KNOLL.

“Christina and Colleen are amazing with incredible futures ahead of them,” Pringle said. “They are determined and talented students and it has been a privilege to work with them.”

(Note: In higher education, capstone courses, also known as senior seminars, offer undergraduate students nearing graduation the opportunity to summarize, evaluate, and integrate some or all of their college experience. Research projects for STEM students can also be included.)

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