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Doctors in the making

White coat ceremony honors NHS students interested in STEM careers

To commemorate the completion of their two biomedical science courses, eight Newton High School students were honored Wednesday morning with their very own white coats donated by local life science professionals.

Prepared much like a typical white coat ceremony — in which med graduates are inducted in, or newcomers welcomed, as members of the medical field — the high school students eagerly awaited in line to be given their formal wear by instructor Jodi Morgan-Peters.

As she called their names, Morgan-Peters presented the coats to one of the seven community and school representatives to help place the white garbs on the students. Smiles spread across their faces when the coats settled onto their shoulders.

This was the second year in a row Morgan-Peters held a white coat ceremony for students who enrolled in the principals of biomedical science and human body systems courses. Both classes are developed by Project Lead The Way (PLTW), a national organization that establishes engaging PreK-12 curriculum.

“The purpose of the classes is to introduce students to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) possibilities and careers in STEM,” Morgan-Peters said. “There’s a very big career component, especially the biomedical science classes. They get introduced to several different biomedical professions throughout both courses.”

In addition to coursework, Morgan-Peters said students are introduced to more than 20 different careers in the medical field. Community business partners also share their experiences with students.

Sergeant Chris Wing of the Newton Police Department, for instance, brought along his crime scene kit during a presentation to show students how he conducts his work and gathers evidence. Wing also attended the white coat ceremony Wednesday morning.

Although it was a rather informal ceremony in the science wing of the high school, the embroidered names near the right lapel of the coats certainly felt official and likely all the more special. Nevertheless, students wore their coats proudly.

Seniors like Mariah Petro and Dallas Schaeffer will have a keepsake to take with them after graduation. Even though they are two months way from departing high school, both students have already planned their medical career journeys once they receive their diplomas.

Petro plans to enroll in the registered nurse program at Des Moines Area Community College before transferring to another college to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Eventually, she wants to complete her work to become a nurse practitioner and possibly seek out her doctorate.

Likewise, Schaeffer sees himself enrolling at the University of Iowa for four years as part of the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship program. Upon graduating as a second lieutenant in the Air Force, Schaefer intends to study medicine in technical school to become a doctor in the Air Force. After 20 years, at the age of 42 or 43, Schaeffer would like to leave the Air Force to open his own practice as a doctor.

Skills learned in Morgan-Peters’ biomedical sciences and human body systems classes have given Petro and Schaeffer their first steps into a career in the STEM field. Petro enjoyed the hands-on approach to both courses.

“You have a lot of opportunities and a lot of learning opportunities to get your hands dirty,” Petro said. “We dissect pig hearts, sheep brains, sheep hearts and we got to go to the cadaver lab in DMU. There’s 100 different ways to learn one thing.”

Dallas added, “And you’re never just sitting in class listening to a lecture. It’s always your own work and you get to choose how and when you do things. There’s a lot of freedom with the class … We’re always doing something. There’s never a boring day in the class.”

As the medicine career field continues to grow, Morgan-Peters said her students are more poised to enter related professions, particularly specialized jobs like forensic DNA analysts, blood spatter analysts, paramedics, 911 operators and hematologists, for instance.

Before students were given their white coats, Newton High School Principal Bill Peters told them he did not understand how well the classes were going to prepare them for the future or how many different careers were introduced to them.

“You guys are in a really advantageous position,” Peters said. “Take this and use it and leap yourself forward in your career and you’ll be in a good place. This is an advantage most of us never could have dreamt of in high school. You guys really got ahead of the game.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

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