Playing it Forward: Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship and Mentorship

Amani Gillette’s Story

Amani working in the laboratory of Dr. McFall-Ngai’s as a high school Youth Apprentice

Amani Gillette, a junior from LaFollette High School in Madison, started the Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP) in Fall Semester, 2010.  An outstanding youth apprentice (YA) throughout her two years in the program, she excelled in both the specialized laboratory course at the BTC Institute and in her work site research under the mentorship of Professor Margaret McFall-Ngai, UW-Madison Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology.  Amani’s characterization of a gene and protein found in a small tropical squid resulted in her first scientific publication and poster presentation.

Fast forward— after receiving a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Michigan Technological University (which included working in a tissue engineering lab and two summers interning at Promega Corporation under the supervision of Dr. Dan Lazar to help develop an assay for autophagy), Amani is now back in Madison. She is in her second year of graduate school and, working with Dr. Melissa Skala at the Morgridge Institute for Research, is currently mentoring Biotechnology YA Ava VanDommelen (senior from DeForest High School). Following in Amani’s footsteps, Ava will present her research nationally this January at the SPIE conference (the International Society of Optics and Photonics). Continue reading

A Successful Launch for Biotechnology: The Basics for Middle School Teachers

Megan Wagner (left) and Katie Aliota, science teachers from Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI; load an agarose gel with colored dyes.

Megan Wagner (left) and Katie Aliota, science teachers from Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School in Sun Prairie, WI; load an agarose gel with colored dyes.

Today’s blog is jointly written by guest blogger  Peter Kritsch, Biotechnology and Biology Teacher at Oregon High School and contributor Barbara Bielec. K-12 Program Director at the BTC Institute.

The BTC Institute has offered two graduate-level courses for high school teachers for many summers.  Biotechnology: The Basics and Biotechnology: Beyond the Basics have become very popular and are also drawing the interest of middle school teachers.  So, this June we piloted a new 3-day course designed specifically for them.  Representing different schools and districts, eight teachers learned how to extract DNA from strawberries, pour and run agarose gels, identify a taste gene, and received information on lots of resources to use with their students.

Through the BTC Institute’s Biotechnology Teacher Academy, these courses are offered at no cost and $300-$500 stipends are available.  A main Academy goal is to provide high quality professional development opportunities that prioritize content that participants can smoothly incorporate into their classrooms.   Our commitment to stipends is generously supported by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC), Promega Corporation, Madison College and the BTC Institute.  (All three courses are offered for graduate credits from Edgewood College, and Viterbo University also offers credits for the two geared to high school teachers.)

The importance of this approach is affirmed by Sherry Jacobsen (Kromrey Middle School in Middleton, WI):

This [course] is such a gift to teachers!  Many times we aren’t treated as professionals so it was nice to be treated as a professional without a high personal cost.  I love how the course is so practical.  Many courses are only in theory and no application.  I can take so many useful ideas with me.

Biotechnology is making its way into the middle school classroom. With access to the BTC Institute’s Equipment Loan Program, teachers can check out micropipettes, gel boxes & power supplies, an ultraviolet light box and other equipment for up to two weeks.  Course participant Amy Reimer (Core Knowledge Middle School in Verona, WI), has already taken advantage of this program and noted that it was “great to review procedures” through the course and plans to borrow equipment again this coming year. Continue reading

A Celebration of Life XX—Wild Weather!

Summer Science Vacation

Summer Science Vacation

The African American Ethnic Academy and the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute), both 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organizations, have collaborated for twenty years in offering A Celebration of Life, a summer science program for upper elementary and middle school students. The program is open to all area students, with tuition reimbursement and transportation provided for those who need that assistance.

With supporting grants from the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, an educational arm of NASA, two summer science camps are offered this year – one for upper elementary and one for middle schools students. We just completed the first session, full mornings for two weeks for students entering 3rd–5th grade and have launched the second one, same format, for middle school students this week.

Needless to say, the theme of Wild Weather! lends itself to a wide array of hands-on, exploratory activities.  Here are a few of our favorites that you may wish to try out with the kids in your life. Continue reading

Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship Program Fosters Young Scientists

Student working in laboratory.

Photo credit: BTC Institute.

Ellyn Lepinski is an intern at Promega who started her biotechnology career path five years ago as a high school junior taking a course from the BTC Institute (www.btci.org) as part of the Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship Program.

Ellyn credits the program with helping her achieve her goals:

“Over the course of two years in which I was a Youth Apprentice, I obtained numerous skills, both inside and outside of the lab. I gained valuable scientific experience, including techniques like gel electrophoresis, nucleic acid purification, PCR, SDS-PAGE, Western blotting, cell culture and more.

On a personal level, I became very close with other students in the class and with our instructors, Barbara Bielec and Chad Zimprich. Everyone involved was always very approachable and willing to help with both laboratory tasks and in terms of giving advice for the future.

Through the program, I was placed in Dr. Que Lan’s entomology lab at UW-Madison, beginning in 2009. While there, I worked on a project involving sterol carrier protein-2, a protein involved in cholesterol uptake in mosquitoes.Notably, I am still working in Dr. Lan’s lab, however my research focus has shifted to bacterial fermentation. In between working in Dr. Lan’s lab, I also worked at the Forest Products Laboratory (USDA).

Additionally, this past June, I began an internship at Promega in the Scientific Applications department. Here I work to develop new applications for existing projects. This November marks five years of laboratory research for me, which would not have been possible without the Youth Apprenticeship Program and everyone involved. In addition to the specific labs that I have had the opportunity to work in, my experience in the Youth Apprenticeship Program has allowed me to emerge as a leader in my college lab courses. The program has clearly made a phenomenal impact on my life and is something I am very grateful for.”

Photo credit: BTC Institute.

Photo credit: BTC Institute.

Since 1993, the BTC Institute in partnership with the Dane County School Consortium has helped make such opportunities possible to nearly 300 students from public schools throughout Dane County. The program includes a paid apprenticeship in an industry or UW-Madison research lab and specialized instruction. In addition to being paid for their work, students receive high school credit for their participation in the worksite and the specialized biotechnology course held at the BTC Institute.

One aspect of the program that makes it so effective and unique is the amount of time that students spend working. Youth apprentices who start as juniors in the program must work 900 paid work hours to earn the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Skill Standards Certificate from the State of Wisconsin, youth apprentices who start work as seniors must earn 450 work hours. Students have had employment at a variety of companies and UW-Madison research labs, a few examples that have hired multiple apprentices include Genus PIC (ABS), MOFA Global, Promega and laboratories in the UW-Madison Departments of Bacteriology, Biochemistry, Entomology, Genetics, Horticulture, Plant Pathology and Surgery. Many of the students, like Ellyn, continue to be employed by their worksite long after they graduate from high school—proof of how effective this program is in helping to create the next generation STEM workforce.

Each year the BTC Institute hosts a Youth Apprenticeship Program preview night for all of the Dane County youth apprenticeship options: biotechnology, automotive technician, health services, and many more (www.dcsc.org). This year the preview nights will be held February 24 and 25 starting at 5:00pm. Students in grades 10 and 11 who are interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to attend one of the evening sessions with a parent.