The confluence of many independent events led to the creation of the Systems Education Experiences (SEE) program. Here are a few snippets of the SEE story that catalyzed an education and outreach program, which in turn has impacted over 2.5 million students across the world.

During the summer of 2003, Dr. Nitin S. Baliga, then a Senior Research Scientist at Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), hosted two high school students as part of a paid internship. Their summer internships were successful and fun, but Nitin realized three important things: 1) high school students benefit enormously from internships in a professional setting, 2) the internship needs to be structured with supervision by an experienced teacher, 3) while the internship significantly benefits students who are accepted in the program, this is not a scalable effort to reach larger numbers of deserving students. So he, along with Pat Ehrman, began to consider other models of impactful, scalable education that could be seamlessly integrated into Nitin’s research program.

Meanwhile, Dr. Leroy Hood, Co-founder and then President of the ISB, and Dr. Mike Riley, Superintendent of Bellevue School District (BSD), had been brainstorming ways to partner in order to bring contemporary Biology to all high school students within the Bellevue School District. This new Biology – which is quantitative, interdisciplinary and uses a systems approach – could be integrated into not only BSD courses, but also into other schools, if new instructional materials were available.

ISB’ers Nitin, Lee, Pat, and Dr. Lee Rowen hosted representatives from BSD to brainstorm. Claudia Ludwig, then a Biology and Chemistry teacher at International School in BSD, attended that meeting in order to voice concerns about scientists changing the curriculum used in her alternative school with her unique students. Her concerns, and the concerns and care of everyone in the room, resulted in a round-table discussion that inspired the group to plan for a summer together to work towards common, scalable goals. In August 2004, ISB and BSD agreed to move forward with the development of high school instructional materials that would introduce all of Bellevue’s students to emerging practices in science while meeting Washington State’s science instruction standards. Shortly thereafter, a strong collaboration was formed that included practicing scientists, a school district, science educators, educational evaluators and funding organizations. This collaboration expanded from one school district to districts throughout WA State, the nation, and in over 100 countries.

Two key faculty at the Institute for Systems Biology were involved in the design and development of the initial modules, Drs. Baliga and Hood. Dr. Baliga and his research group serve as the project’s lead scientists. An example of this collaboration can be seen through the large group assembled to create the Ecological Networks Module. From 2003-2021, 104 high school students, 27 undergraduate students, 52 teachers and 71 researchers collaboratively created SEE modules which have now been used by over 2.6 million students across the world. Findings from evaluations of SEE projects show that this collaborative process also provides valuable professional development for students, teachers and scientists. Please see our Impact Page for more information and view the SEE Timeline page for specific examples of previous events and programming.

Original funding for the materials development came from the National Science Foundation, The Stuart Foundation and the Amgen Foundation.  Funding continues through the National Science Foundation and through many other partners.