Opportunities for High School Students to Learn at the BTC Institute

Paul Simon famously sang about what it was like to engage as a learner in a high school environment—though his lack of education certainly hasn’t hurt him any, I do wonder about reading the “writing on the wall”. Frequently, in Education, we talk about the challenges of preparing students for careers that have yet to be invented. What to do?

One major initiative within K-16 education can broadly be referred to as “21st Century Skills”—those that are needed for individuals to be successful contributors in a society where concrete goals are moving targets. Though we don’t know the exact details, we’re pretty sure that there are some basic elements that all people will need to be successful contributors to society.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills has built a framework for understanding and aligning our education system toward these skills:

Photocredit: Partnership for 21st Century Skills http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework
Photocredit: Partnership for 21st Century Skills http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework

Applying this model to educational programming takes a lot of innovation and hard work on the part of instructors as well as students. However, students who have the opportunity to engage with a teaching and learning system that makes use of these concepts can reap big rewards when it comes to being able to understand how their learning can be applied to solving problems. Here at the BTC Institute, we have been fortunate to work with the Dane County (Wisconsin) School Consortium to develop two offerings for high school students in the area of biotechnology that really work within this model and give students the contextualization they need to develop academic and career skills.

Photocredit: BTC Institute
Photocredit: BTC Institute
In the Dane County Youth Apprenticeship Program, part of the Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship program (one of the premiere youth apprenticeship programs in the country) high school juniors and seniors choose a one or two year elective program that combines academic and technical instruction with mentored on-the-job learning (https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/youthapprenticeship/ ). The apprentices spend approximately half their day attending high school classes, and half their day at their work site. In addition they are enrolled in a specialized lab course taught weekly at the BTC Institute. This academic year, there are 31 Biotechnology Youth Apprentices who will gain skills in core scientific techniques central to biotechnology as well as job and career skills important in the field: such as preparing resume, interviewing, professionalism, and keeping a laboratory notebook, among others. The BTC Institute has been working with this program for over 20 years. Look for more about this program in future posts!

A second program that we are piloting this year is a one-semester elective course for seniors and advanced juniors in Dane County. In a three-hour session once a week, students come to the BTC Institute to explore biotechnology applied to global health.The Grand Challenges in Global Health (http://www.grandchallenges.org/Pages/Default.aspx ), a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is being used as a framework. Solutions to the Grand Challenges depend on an understanding of molecular biology and the incorporation of biotechnology. Throughout the semester, students will have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and scientific skills that focus on the study of DNA, RNA and proteins in a real-world, problem-centered context, in addition to exploring career pathways related to biomedical engineering and biotechnology applied to health fields.

We are pleased to offer these exciting opportunities to students and hope that we are doing our part to ensure that more students in the biotechnology field experience those nice bright colors associated with being prepared for their future careers.

Amy Prevost received her doctorate from UW-Madison in 2012 in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Amy is a program director at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute), a non-profit located on the Promega campus in Fitchburg, Wis., where she coordinates scientific programs for adult learners. She is also a project manager on a grant aimed at understanding student success in advanced manufacturing programs at two-year colleges with the Center on Education Research at UW Madison. Amy’s primary areas of interest in educational research include understanding educational pathways in STEM programs, improving student outcomes at the post-secondary and graduate levels – including access to careers, and trying to map elements of doctoral programs that contribute to students’ abilities to transfer knowledge.

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