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My name is Lily Voynov, and I am a junior at Waukee High School. I am part of the Medical & Bioscience Research team here at APEX. When I registered for classes last year, I knew I wanted to take an APEX course, and the research class caught my eye. I didn’t realize a student could conduct scientific research during high school. Rather, I assumed that in-depth research was an opportunity only offered at the collegiate level. Excited by the opportunity to discover new things, I decided to sign up for the course. Now, as the semester draws to a close, I realize that the APEX program has granted me the unique opportunity to learn in an environment beyond the typical classroom.

During the first week of APEX, I experienced what it means to be a part of the APEX team. Here at APEX, we call our classes “teams,” and I truly believe we are one. Spending two hours, five days a week, for eighteen weeks together allows you to form a deep bond with students from both Waukee and Northwest High Schools. During an APEX-wide competition before Thanksgiving break, my team won the Turkey Cup in the annual Friendsgiving Games. We competed against several teams in random challenges to build our teamwork, communication, and collaboration skills. It is also an opportunity for us to practice one of our standards around work-life balance. Working together with our unique talents and persistent spirit, we bonded over silly challenges like throwing toy food into a basket held by a blindfolded teammate and trying to keep feathers afloat with our breath. Not only have I found a family within my own team, but the APEX family exists throughout the whole building. The other instructors love to talk with you, both professionally and personally. The entire staff at APEX cares about each associate, which encourages everyone to reach their highest potential.

Within my own class, I worked on a project about gene expression in Ovarian Cancer. My partner and I learned how to use a genetic database called R2 and how to input and analyze data in Excel. Working with new technology was challenging, but we always had Jared Almandinger, our instructor, and Dr. Ananieva, our business partner from DMU, at our side. There were many times during my project when I felt we weren’t accomplishing anything or that we wouldn’t be able to use Excel or R2 successfully. Still, through multiple attempts and questions, we learned about gene expressions and created a research poster reflecting our diligence and newfound knowledge. In addition to our research project, we had the opportunity to complete other labs, including the soapy cilantro experiment. We took a sample of our own DNA, replicated it through a process called PCR, and analyzed our DNA through gel electrophoresis. During the gel electrophoresis process, the DNA diffuses through the gel, creating bands. Depending on the amount and band placement, you can see whether you have the gene that makes you taste cilantro as soapy or spicy. Throughout the research process and lab experiences, I have learned how to use high-tech lab equipment and, most importantly, that persistence is essential.

Overall, APEX has been a great opportunity to conduct scientific research, gain professional skills, and meet new friends and business professionals. I look forward to taking another course at the WILC during my senior year.