A group of Pickerington high school seniors last month traveled to Washington, D.C., to tout the virtues of funding science, technology, engineering and mathematics education programs and to provide ideas about how to improve emergency medical care.
Through a partnership between the Pickerington Local School District and OhioHealth's Pickerington Medical Campus, local high school students for the past two years have taken classes at the medical campus, giving them opportunities to observe professional medical settings and interact with physicians.
That arrangement, along with the STEM program provided by Pickerington High School Central and Pickerington High School North, led to five local seniors devising models and concepts for enhancing emergency rooms and emergency medical services responses to accidents and threatening incidents.
PHS North students -- Nikie Anderson, Mary Singer and Manasa Vanguri and PHS Central students Steven Bond and Lydia Gates -- were invited to share their project with members of the U.S. Congress in Washington March 13-15. They also discussed how STEM education has benefited them.
It was part of a conference in which educators and government leaders held conversations about best practices for preparing students for tomorrow's workforce and global challenges.
The students received the invitation for designing a circular emergency room, which they said would improve efficiencies because it would reduce congestion in hallways and ensure patients were moved forward in an orderly fashion to each new level of emergency treatment.
Additionally, the students proposed the use of drones as first responders to emergencies.
They said the hypothetical drone should be equipped with an automated external defibrillator, first aid kit and a two-way communication element so it could relay information to emergency response personnel such as medics who would be traveling to the scene via vehicles.
Those ideas got them to Capitol Hill, and once there federal lawmakers considering education funding also wanted to hear about the role of STEM education in public schools.
"We thought we were going to do a presentation of what we did, but they wanted to get to know us and wanted to know how STEM has impacted us," Gates said.
"I feel like it was a cool opportunity to be able to say we're helping the next generation of students."
Each of the five students said STEM has enhanced their educations and helped steer them toward career paths they hope will be beneficial to society, as well as themselves.
And each student said they plan to pursue education in medical fields in college.
Anderson plans to study nursing at the University of Central Florida.
Bond plans to do the same at Capital University and Gates said she hopes to earn a nursing degree at Heidelberg University and then pursue a master's degree in business.
Singer said she plans to start at Columbus State University before transferring to Ohio State University to pursue a biochemistry degree, and Vanguri plans to go to OSU to major in neuroscience as part of the Mount Leadership Society Scholars Program.
"(STEM) is a four-year program in high school and it's a more hands-on version of learning," Anderson said. "When I started my freshman year, I had no idea what I wanted to do.
"I went into STEM and it was a steppingstone to what my career could be," she said. "It's definitely given great insight into how the medical field works."
The rest of the group agreed. Several noted the STEM program encouraged them to think outside the box and look for innovative ways to improve medical care.
"It's a great way to give back to the community," Vanguri said.
As for their project, the students are eager to see if some of their ideas are one day put into practice.
Currently, some state legislatures, including Ohio's, are looking at how drones can safely be employed to respond to emergencies and to aid law enforcement agencies.
Violet Township Fire Chief Michael Little said he's very interested in the concept, and hopes that logistics and safety issues can be worked out.
"On the EMS side, there's already some discussion about how to deliver AEDs to people at accident scenes," Little said.
"It takes us four to six minutes to respond (by vehicle).
"Obviously, it's a life-saving issue and we're paying attention to it to see where it goes," Little said.