Building Community: Outreach through BTC Institute Courses and Activities

Students in the Core Techniques in Protein and  Genetic Engineering Course (photo credit BTCI)

Students in the Core Techniques in Protein and Genetic Engineering Course (photo credit BTCI)

One of the questions that Promega has always asked of itself is “How can a company really become a vital part of its community over the long term, making truly valuable and unique contributions that foster deep connections to local communities where it exists?”  Lately we have formalized that with our Corporate Responsibility Report, but this question has always been a part of our corporate culture, long before such thinking was popular or “en vogue”.

In 1993 Promega helped to begin the nonprofit educational outreach institution, the BTC institute, this long-term commitment to the local community has grown throughout the 22 years to become an integral part of the local Wisconsin educational community and serve as a model for global partners as well. Here are a few thoughts from the Karin Borgh, the Executive Director of BTC Institute, about how it has managed to work toward a vision of being a vital, contributing member of the community.


  • From the beginning (incorporated in 1993), our goal was to identify educational content and training opportunities related to biotechnology that (1) were of interest to K-12 students and teachers; undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral researchers; scientists in academia and industry; and, the general public, and (2) were not currently available via programs offered by other organizations/institutions.
  • Summer science friendships (photo credit BTCI institute)

    Summer science friendships (photo credit BTCI institute)

    Our (relatively unique) niche has been to be able to offer relevant, high quality lab experiences in a corporate setting and, with the support of Promega, to do so at rates affordable to the people we serve. This enables us to offer “real world” biotechnology activities that include a career exploration component.

  • Building and maintaining strong partnerships with other organizations/institutions that share similar goals, leveraging resources, to develop and implement these programs has been key to our success over the years. In the process, we have created models that easily be replicated by others – as modified to fit their needs and particular situations.An excellent example of this is our partnership with Promega-Hannam BTCI in Daejeon, Korea.  They have customized our field trip program to fit well within the parameters of the Korean school year and system.Another is our partnership with the Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine Center at UW-Madison.  We offer an excellent Wisconsin Stem Cell Symposium annually, bringing in world-renowned researchers and serving 300+ attendees, all with the support of 20+ sponsors, including many companies in addition to Promega.
  • Summer science rocks for middle school students at the BTC Institute (photo credit: BTCI)

    Summer science rocks for middle school students at the BTC Institute (photo credit: BTCI)

    We highly value the contributions we can make to support the development of the minds/interests of the next generation of scientists, of a scientifically literate population. This year, with support from Promega and the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, we launched (no pun intended) our Biotechnology Teacher Academy, offering teachers stipends for their participation in our week-long intensive course and/or one day workshops, rather than charging fees.  In return, they will report back to us re: how they implemented what they learned with their students.   They will impact thousands of students.  We also were able to launch our new Camp Biotechnology for 9th and 10th graders, filling a gap for students too old for our Celebration of Life summer sessions (in partnership with the African American Ethnic Academy for elementary and middle school students) and the Youth Apprenticeship Program in Biotechnology for high school juniors and seniors.  Our pilot program for Camp Biotech was fully enrolled ($380 fee for the week; 4 scholarships provided – one of our scholarship students had been through all six years of “A Celebration of Life” and loves science!)

    One of the students who attended the inaugural Camp Biotech for 9th and 10th graders at the BTC Institute.

    One of the students who attended the inaugural Camp Biotech for 9th and 10th graders at the BTC Institute.

  • We have also always kept the general public in mind. This may also be somewhat unique.  Promega’s support enables us to offer the International Forum on Consciousness, in itself a unique opportunity for interested participants from all walks of life to learn, to engage in discussion related to current scientific information, as well as to diverse social and cultural perspectives.From a biotechnology aspect, our innovative one-day, hands-on workshops for non-scientists, Molecular Technology Basics for the Non-Scientist, provide those with non-scientific backgrounds to learn more about the scientific techniques used in the biotechnology industry.

Is BTC Institute achieving its goals? Certainly some of the participants think so.  Here is what one teacher who participated in the Biotechnology the Basics course had to say:


This past week has been very enlightening and fun. After 35 years of attending teacher/educator conferences and workshops, few have been as useful as this week was.  Being able to have the hands on experience of completing some basic labs helps me validate what I teach about biotech. My confidence on approaching our science department to develop interdepartmental units on biotech is improved because I was able to use the equipment and complete the labs. My lab skills were very primitive and I was apprehensive about being able to complete the labs. Your instructions and helpful teaching tips for teaching students made it easy to learn. The wealth of information you provided and the sharing with the other instructors has given me a lot of ideas on how I can  incorporate more biotech in each of my classes.  With biotech applications in every Agriculture career pathway I feel that every Ag student should have a basic understanding on the techniques used and the ethics behind the application of the products. I hope to  schedule a field trip to the Institute this year for my core Ag students that have not had AP Bio or the exposure to biotech labs.  If I am unsuccessful with establishing a partnership with our science department, I plan on obtaining the equipment necessary to use in my curricular areas.  The list and recommendations of companies you provided will really help me if I have to set up my own lab.  The hospitality, the stipend and professional respect we all received this week was an unexpected bonus. Thank you for a wonderful week!

Margaret Waite, Oconomowoc Agriculture Instructor

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Karin Borgh, PhD is the Executive Director of the BTC Institute.

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