Sarah Mahan embraces change. In fact, she doesn’t just embrace it, she seeks it out, running towards change with arms wide open.
“If I could do a different thing every week, I would. That’s what my job would be.”
Sarah made her dream a reality when she began leading the Promega R&D Flex Team. This group of diverse research scientists moves around Kornberg Center, contributing resources to accelerate the development of technologies like Lumit Immunoassays and PowerPlex chemistry. They don’t specialize in any field or technology, but rather are constantly challenged to learn new skills quickly. Everywhere they go, they help R&D teams generate more data, answer more questions, and deliver results in less time.
“In short,” Sarah says, “we’re helping research teams make better products, faster.”
Outside the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center, the wind snakes through the tall prairie grasses, drying slowly in the crisp September air. The walking paths through the woods are turning orange with fallen leaves, and the resident sandhill cranes, a fixture of summer at Promega Madison, will soon be heading to their winter home in southern Florida.
Inside the BTC, the Promega Fall Art Showcase is honoring the life of Truman Lowe, an acclaimed Ho-Chunk artist whose sculptural works evoke a powerful connection with nature. For decades, Lowe was a professor in the Department of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was an exceptional mentor to young artists. He was known for encouraging artists to fearlessly delve into their artistic voice and equipping them with the necessary tools to navigate the art world. The Fall Art Showcase honors his legacy by exhibiting his art alongside pieces by several former students.
Truman Lowe: Visionary Artist, Mentor and Teacher
Truman Lowe was born on the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin reservation in 1944. He recounted a childhood of drawing with rocks on the Black River and creating crafts like baskets and beadwork with his parents. Though he loved art from an early age, Lowe says that he never thought of art as a profession until he was studying for his undergraduate art degree at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. There, he became fascinated with Michelangelo, who inspired him to realize that art could be “a profession as well as a passion.”1
After earning a graduate degree and moving through several teaching positions at the high school and university level, Lowe accepted a position as Native American studies coordinator and assistant professor of art at UW-Madison in 1975. This began a 45-year tenure in the department of art, where he fostered a deep understanding and appreciation for Native American art and culture among his students. He also served as a curator of contemporary art at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Lowe is known for large, site-specific installations that use natural materials including wood, stone and metal. His works push creative boundaries and exhibit a unique blend of versatility, precision and emotional depth. Lowe’s sculptures have been exhibited around the world, from museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art to embassies in Bolivia and Cameroon. A sculpture titled Effigy: Bird Form was displayed on the White House grounds during the Clinton administration and was recently reinstalled atop Observatory Hill at UW-Madison, close to the former site of Native American effigy mounds.
Lowe, who died in 2019, was a beloved mentor to many students over his long tenure at UW-Madison. A university-published obituary quotes John Hitchcock, professor and Associate Dean at UW-Madison, saying, “Truman encouraged us to stay strong as artists and to our vision as makers.” The widespread love of Lowe will be on display at the Promega Fall Art Showcase, where six of his former students will be exhibiting alongside Lowe’s own works.
Promega Fall Art Showcase
The Fall Art Showcase opened on September 19 with a symposium featuring guest speakers Patricia marroquin Norby and Jo Ortel. Norby is the Associate Curator of Native American Art at the metropolitan Museum of Art, and the first person of Indigenous descent hired for a full-time curatorial position in the museum’s 150-year history. Jo Ortel is an author, art historian and Professor Emerita of Art History of Beloit College. Ortel is also the author of a notable biography of Truman Lowe titled “Woodland Reflections: The Art of Truman Lowe.”
The Promega Culinary Team collaborated with Chef Elena Terry of the culinary organization Wild Bearies to offer traditional Ho-Chunk food at the reception. Chef Terry provided recipes and connected the team with indigenous purveyors to source ingredients. Promega also collaborated with Little Eagle Arts Foundation to include pieces of Ho-Chunk culture into the event.
The Fall Art Showcase runs through December 29 and is open to the public Monday through Friday 8:00 am – 4:00 pm at the Promega BioPharmaceutical Technology Center. For more information, visit https://www.promega-artshow.com/
1As quoted in Woodland Reflections: The Art of Truman Lowe by Jo Ortel
What do you wear to a job interview at a biotechnology company? How should your resume be formatted? What questions do you ask to ensure the role is a good fit?
“My mentor guided me through job applications, including helping me identify the things that were important to me in a job,” says Jazmin Santiesteban. “While we were talking about those things, she asked if I would be interested in applying to Promega.”
Jazmin received the D.O.O.R.S. Scholarship in 2021, before her senior year at Lawrence University. That scholarship program helped Jazmin develop new skills and cultivate connections that eventually led her to a job at Promega after graduation.
“I love it so far,” she says. “I don’t know where my career may take me, but right now I want to build a longer future at Promega.”
“We are a company that is built upon innovation, and R&D is one of the main drivers of that,” says Frank Fan, Director of Biology at Promega.
Promega Research and Development is focused on developing reliable tools that address the biggest problems facing life scientists. However, our R&D scientists do much more than just develop products. Promega scientists regularly pursue basic research to curate new skills and knowledge and collaborate extensively with researchers across academia and industry. This work fuels major advancements in areas like targeted genome editing, drug discovery, and genetic identity.
In June 2023, our Research and Development department gathered to recognize Promega scientists who have published peer-reviewed papers or patents. This was the first time the department had held this event since 2019, and in that time 71 scientists have published research in journals like Nature and Cell. 16 of those scientists published 10 or more times, and several were also invited to contribute review articles and book chapters.
In addition, Promega also recognized seven researchers with the title “Distinguished Scientist.” This award was intended to recognize scientists who are at the top of their game in both advancing and communicating science. Their work includes protein engineering, chemical biology, neuroscience and much more.
The Distinguished Scientists were selected for having an i10 index above 25 since 2018. This indicates that the scientist has more than 25 publications that have been cited 10+ times in the past five years, as measured by Google Scholar. As VP of R&D Poncho Meisenheimer said, “This award is truly from the scientific community. This is a recognition that your scientific peers see your work as valuable.”
Here is the list of Promega researchers recognized as Distinguished Scientists and some of their recent high-impact papers.
When six undergraduate students from across the country convened at Promega Madison to present their research, several of them were surprised to see Promega CEO Bill Linton in the audience.”
“I’ve never interacted with a biotechnology company like this, and then the CEO shows up,” says Valeria Sanchez Estrada. “We actually discussed ChatGPT and how AI and machine learning can advance biology research.”
Valeria, a second-year student from St. John’s University, was a 2022 recipient of the Diversification Of Our Research Scientists (D.O.O.R.S.) Scholarship, provided the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute and Promega North America. The scholarship provides ten students with a $5,000 award that can be used towards educational fees, books and supplies to support their scientific education. The scholarship is open to undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds pursuing a biotechnology-related major.
On March 24, 2023, scholarship recipients were invited to Promega Madison for the first in-person D.O.O.R.S. Scholars Day. In addition to presenting their research, students had the opportunity to meet with Promega R&D scientists and tour the beautiful Kornberg Center. Overall, the event was a day of celebration and building connections between outstanding students and the biotechnology industry.
“I imagined industry just being about hard science and lab time,” says Chris Provido, a third-year student from Bowie State University. “But Promega’s values showed me today that although we’re all scientists, your humanity is just as important, and it’s important to find a balance between hard science and being human.”
Earth Day 2023 is past, but protecting our environment and natural resources is important every day of the year.
As a company, Promega has set ambitious goals for reducing our carbon emissions, plastic waste and water usage by 2030. We design each new building to surpass the sustainability features of all previous facilities. Our culinary garden employs techniques that are beneficial to the ecosystem, from enriching the soil to supporting local wildlife. In fact, over 225 acres of our 400-acre Madison campus is dedicated to preserved prairie, wetlands and woodlands.
Promega employees are also dedicated to reducing their impact on the natural world. This month, a series of employee-hosted Earth Month events gave Madison-based Promega employees the opportunity to test-drive electric cars, trade plants and learn about sustainable lawncare. Here are a few highlights from Earth Month 2023 at Promega.
The Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship Program hosted by the BTC Institute gives high school students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a research lab. Students can work as paid apprentices for either one or two years while also attending weekly training sessions at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center. Through this program, students can graduate high school with robust knowledge of lab safety and fundamental techniques, as well as a strong understanding of the soft skills required to succeed in science, from reading peer-reviewed literature to delivering a research presentation.
Many of these students will grow up to pursue careers in science, from academic research labs to the biotechnology industry. Some of them have returned to Fitchburg to work at Promega, the primary corporate sponsor of BTC Institute. As these scientists progress in their careers, the skills they developed in the Youth Apprenticeship Program continue to support their work every day.
“It was just a sea of Promega everywhere,” says Rebecca Roberts, a Promega Field Applications Scientist. “Floor to ceiling, piled up with Maxwell instruments, Maxprep Liquid Handlers, all the accessories and consumables…”
In her role on the Field Application Scientists team, Rebecca travels the United States installing the Maxprep Liquid Handler in customer labs and training scientists to operate the system and incorporate it into their workflow. This instrument automates the pre- and post-processing steps in a nucleic acid purification workflow. It’s a large and sophisticated instrument that takes up roughly four feet of lab bench space and weighs up to 220 pounds. It is intended for research use only, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maxprep Liquid Handler, Maxwell RSC 48 Instrument, and several Maxwell purification kits were recommended for nucleic acid extraction protocols in the CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).
When an instrument is sold, Rebecca and a Service Engineer spend three days on-site installing it and training a small group of staff to use it. One Maxprep instrument at a time is typical. On rare occasions, Rebecca might install two on a single trip. However, in 2022, Rebecca joined a multinational team of Promega scientists and engineers in Kigali, Rwanda for an order that was anything but typical.
“We knew a large order from this customer was a possibility,” Rebecca says, “But I certainly wasn’t expecting an order of ten.”
This was the largest installation of Maxprep instruments Promega has ever seen from a single order. The customer also had a hard deadline that required delivery, installation and training to be complete in only six weeks – half the time usually quoted for a single instrument.
In the end, ten Maxprep instruments were installed at the National Reference Laboratory in Kigali, and more than twenty people were trained to use the systems for RNA extraction to support COVID-19 testing at a major international meeting. The order was a success, but that six week journey was a wild ride that depended on the hard work and dedication of Promega teams on both sides of the Atlantic.
Behind the reception desk at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center hangs a self-portrait of an R&D scientist made of torn paper. A painting by an IT specialist adorns a wall outside the auditorium. Near the windows, the daughter of a manager in Operations Engineering has created a diorama depicting the coronation of Princess Bryn Bryn who is, in fact, a puppy.
The Promega Employee Art Show is an annual exhibition that invites Promega employees and their family members to submit artwork to be displayed in the Promega Art Showcase. The 2023 showcase features more than 150 pieces of art submitted by employees in 3 countries.
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