Biotechnology Youth Apprentice Madhu Gowda Wins GRAND PRIZE at the Capital Science and Engineering Fair

Madhu presents her work.
Madhu presents her work.

Imagine the pleasure Barbara Bielec, the BTC Institute’s K-12 Program Director and co-coordinator of the Dane County Youth Apprenticeship Program in Biotechnology (YAP-Biotechnology), felt when reading this recent message from Sharon Tang, one of our apprentice’s mentors:

“I am unbelievably proud to let you know that Madhu won not only first place for the biological science projects, but also the GRAND PRIZE at the Capital Science and Engineering Fair this weekend! She was at the fair from 7:30am until 4:30pm presenting her work done in our lab and did a fantastic, eloquent job speaking about her project. This was such an impressive honor – she won among over 20 competing students in the region, earned a cash award, and will be competing as a finalist at the Intel international science fair in May. I’m sure she’ll tell you, but I am just over the moon and wanted to share the news as well. Attaching a photo I took of her in action.”

A second year student in the program, Madhu is a senior at Middleton High School. Since November, 2015, she has been working in the lab of Dr. Susan Thibeault in the Department of Surgery, Division of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Madhu and Dr. Susan Thiebault
Madhu and Sharon Tang

She has worked nearly 600 hours in the lab, well on her way to completing the 900 laboratory work hours required by the Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship Program. Madhu is working on several different projects in the lab, including: characterizing bacterial communities (microbiomes) in the larynx of mice; determining the best protocol for taking, storing, and extracting DNA from human laryngotracheal swabs; and co-authoring a review paper: Insights into the Role of Collagen in Vocal Fold Health and Disease [Tang, S., Mohad, V . and Gowda, M. (2016)]. All of these projects are relevant to human health.

YAP-Biotechnology also includes a four-hour laboratory classroom component held every Wednesday night during the school year at the BTC Institute and Madhu’s current instructor is Chad Zimprich, an R & D scientist for Promega Corporation. In this context, she utilizes her leadership and teaching skills as she helps other students in the first year YAP-Biotechnology class, led by Barbara Bielec, also serving as a class leader for her second year classmates.


Somehow Madhu also finds time to volunteer at UW Hospital and for children’s summer science programs, and to tutor her peers at Middleton High School. Her extracurricular activities programs include varsity tennis, the National Honor Society, Mock Trial, Health Occupation Students of America, and music (violin).

I have always been interested in the combination of medicine and biotechnology, and I got the chance to personally explore that because of the Youth Apprenticeship Program. The amount of hands-on, real-world experiences you can get in this program is unparalleled. I’m fortunate to have such a great mentor who is always eager to teach me more about otolaryngology and support me through everything. After having the opportunity to conduct my own research in laryngeal microbiology and collaborating on papers, I know I want to continue this work in college. I can truly say that the YAP-Biotechnology program has been the highlight of my high school academic career.

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To learn more about BTC Institute programs, read this recent blog post.

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