Katie Capp

Biology teacher Katie Capp helps a student at Belgrade High School. She was one of two high school teachers in the state to receive a Partners in Science grant from the Murdock Trust.

Katie Capp can’t get enough of school.

While teaching biology at Belgrade High School the past two years, she’s also been working towards a masters degree in science education from Montana State University. Now, thanks to a grant she recently won, she’ll embark on a two-year summer research stint at Montana Tech.

In March, Capp learned she was one of two high school teachers in the state to receive a Partners in Science grant from the Murdock Trust. The program pairs high school educators with science mentors in academic labs to carry out advanced research over summer break. Around 25 of the grants are awarded annually to teachers throughout the Northwest.

“I decided to do it to grow my science knowledge,” Capp said. “My masters is growing my teaching knowledge but I don’t want to be stagnant with my content, which I feel is really the heart of a high school classroom. I just want to be top tier across the board.”

Alongside a Montana Tech professor, she’ll be studying the immune responses of two protein families, in hopes of gaining a greater understanding of how the immune system works and what implications the protein interactions could have for immunotherapy. In other words, she’ll explore how specific proteins in the human body fight off viruses.

“That was the study that included methods that will be most transferrable to the high school classroom,” Capp said.

The Minneapolis native studied biology and chemistry at Carroll College, so she’s no stranger to lab work. She said she expects to encounter a high learning curve while she works alongside science students this summer, but looks forward to getting back into the research side of her area of expertise.

When Capp applied for the partner grant, she was allowed to choose where to study. She said she picked Montana Tech because she has family in Butte, and she also found a professor who was willing to add a high school teacher to his research team.

Capp’s relationship with the Butte university goes beyond the summer program. She also won a grant last year that brings professors and research scientists from the college to her classroom for a week each school year. They help her students study bacteriophages, viruses that kill bacteria, and even use data collected by Belgrade kids in their work.

Providing her students with valuable research experience was Capp’s ultimate motivation for going after the Partners in Science program, she said.

“I didn’t want it to just be professional development for me,” she said. “It needed to be something I could share with my students, to give them some research opportunities at the high school level. College is expensive these days, so it’s helpful to know what you want to do, or what you don’t want to do when you start. Even if they think the research side isn’t their cup of tea, at least they’ll know before going to school.”

After Capp completes her two summers of protein research, she said she plans to apply for a second grant so she can continue university-level lab work and bring new knowledge back to her students.

“I’m looking forward to getting going with it,” she said. “I’m just excited about working through the whole scientific process and getting results and seeing what my summer’s work actually transpires to.”