From Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship to Full-Time Promega Scientist

Headshot photos of Emily Torio, Lucas Slivicke and Kirsten Wingate, three Promega scientists who participated in the Youth Apprenticeship Program.

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.

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The BTC Institute: Serving Youth Skills and Science for Summer

World Youth Skills Day provides a unique opportunity to emphasize the importance of equipping young people with experiences, skills, and opportunities in the workforce. This celebratory day falls on July 15th and was officially declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2014.

At Promega, we are constantly adhering to invest in the future generations of science—and the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute) serves this mission best. The BTC Institute is a non-profit organization that provides educational, scientific, and cultural opportunities for people of all ages. Each summer, the organization hosts a wide range of experiences including camps, programs, and field trips to support individuals interested in science. In the spirit of World Youth Skills Day, let’s take a look at some experiences that are offered for young learners in summer 2022.

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Biotechnology Teaching Online: A New Way to Look at Scientific Notebooks

This post is written by guest blogger, Peter Kritsch MS, Adjunct Instructor BTC Institute.

When I was in the middle of my junior year in high school, my family moved. We had lived in the first state for 12 years. I had gone to school there since kindergarten. Although it wasn’t a small district, I knew everybody and, for better or worse, everybody knew me. Often the first reaction I get when I tell people when we moved is that it must have been hard to move so close to graduation. The reality is . . . it really wasn’t. In fact, it was quite liberating. See, I didn’t have to live up to anybody else’s expectations of who I was based on some shared experience in 2nd grade. I had the opportunity to be who I wanted to be, to try new things without feeling like I couldn’t because that wasn’t who I was supposed to be. 

As long as I refrained from beginning too many sentences with “Well at my old school . . . “ people had to accept me for who I was in that moment, not for who they perceived me to be for the previous 12 years. Now, the new activities were not radically different. I still played baseball and still geeked out taking AP science classes, but I picked up new activities like golf, playing basketball with my friends, and even joined the yearbook. I know . . . “radically different.”  The point is that the new situation allowed me to try something new without worrying about what had always been. 

Peter teaches about biofuels in his virtual classroom.

The pandemic has forced a lot of us to move our classrooms online. In a short period of time, everything changed about how education was done. Our prior teaching experience, including the experience I had with doing blended learning (ooops . . . “back at my old school”), was helpful to a point.  But we quickly found out that being completely virtual was different. And as science teachers, how do you do more than just teach concepts when online? How do you help students to continue engaging in the crucial parts of science – observing, questioning, designing, analyzing, and communicating?

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A Valuable AP Biology Throwback

Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Isobel Utschig, a science teacher at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, WI. We bring this to you in celebration of #TeacherAppreciationWeek 2020

About 10 years ago, I attended a field trip at the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center Institute with my AP Biology classmates. I felt apprehensive upon seeing the micropipettes and other “foreign” lab supplies on the benchtops. We learned that we would be using enzymes to cut DNA and visualize those different fragments on a gel. I marveled at the glowing streaks and found it incredible that I was looking (albeit indirectly) at real pieces of DNA. As we moved into the genetic transformation activity I was even more intrigued. We opened the tubes of bacteria and added some luciferase DNA, which would allow the bacteria to create a light-producing protein.  We then “heat shocked” the bacteria to coax them to take up these plasmids from their environment looking at the bacteria later, their glow revealed our success. The day flew by and at the end I marveled at all that we had done!

Students from Dominican High School AP Biology busy at work 
during a BTC Institute field trip
Students from Dominican High School AP Biology busy at work
during a BTC Institute field trip

Three years later I joined a research lab at Marquette University. Upon seeing the lab benches full of unfamiliar equipment, the same wave of apprehension came over me. My PI introduced me to the first task: digest a plasmid with restriction enzymes and verify the cut with gel electrophoresis. Memories of the high school field trip flooded my mind as I gripped a micropipette and attempted to nimbly load the wells. While I greatly improved in my skills over the course of the summer, the familiarity I had from my trip to the BTC Institute put me at ease from the beginning.  

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Psychedelics as Therapeutic Agents: Current Research, Potential Benefits

This past May (2019) the symposium “Psychedelic Therapy in Society: Exploring the Mechanisms of Action and Delivery of Care” was hosted by the International Forum on Consciousness at the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center on the Promega Madison Campus.

Having the good fortune to work across the street at Promega, I was able to attend this two-day conference and learn from leading researchers in psychedelics and about their use in therapy.

My interest in psychedelics is relatively new. I didn’t experiment with these substances during high school or college years. But in recent years, I’ve seen a close relative struggle with profound anxiety related to terminal disease, and another with substance abuse and depression. The lessons learned from each experience is that the battery of medicines used to treat such illness can result in additional problems for which there are currently not good medication options. And in some cases, traditional medications can cause further health problems. Continue reading “Psychedelics as Therapeutic Agents: Current Research, Potential Benefits”

Meeting the Needs of Scientists at All Levels

One of the best things about the BTC Institute is that we have programs for all levels of learners. It is as rewarding to introduce the concept of how bioluminescence is used by different organisms in the natural world to middle-school students as it is to have top-level scientists use reporter genes to track their knock-in genome edits.

We spend a lot of time working over our curricula to determine whether the content meets the learner where they are to allow our students to achieve their goals. We develop activities that let students who comes to us —via field trips, high school courses, non-scientist sessions and graduate level programs—to test ideas and evaluate strategies for problem solving as they learn techniques and concepts central to biotechnology. Continue reading “Meeting the Needs of Scientists at All Levels”

Back for More: Thoughts from 3 Regular Attendees on the International Forum on Consciousness

The International Forum on Consciousness offers a lively two days of information sharing and discussion regarding important—and often challenging—topics. Over the years, we have been guided through a range of topics, including creativity, near death, entheogens, intelligence in nature, business evolution and the effects of sensory inputs.  This year, we’re tackling Means and Metrics for Detecting and Measuring Consciousness.  You can find out more here: https://www.btci.org/events-symposia-2018/international-forum-on-consciousness/ .

As we work on the final details for this year and registrations flow in, I took a moment to pause and reflect on the fact that several of the registrants have joined us for many, if not all, of our past events. It’s gratifying to see that they are taking time out of their normal routines to make their way to the Promega campus again this spring.  So, I asked a few of them to share their thoughts for this post and this is what they had to say: Continue reading “Back for More: Thoughts from 3 Regular Attendees on the International Forum on Consciousness”

Biotechnology in Space: Partnering with the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium

The BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute) has been a member of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) since 2002. As an educational arm of NASA, the mission of WSGC “is to use the excitement and vision of space and aerospace science to equip the citizens of Wisconsin with the math, science and technology tools they need to thrive in the 21st century.”

Also as noted on WSGC’s website, “The mission of NASA’s Space Grant Program is to contribute to the nation’s science enterprise by funding education, research, and informal education projects through a national network of university-based Space Grant consortia.” Members of these consortia include academic institutions, government agencies, businesses and other educational organizations, such as the BTC Institute.
Of particular relevance to the WSGC/BTC Institute partnership, Space Grant Program goals include working to:

  • Recruit and train professionals, especially women, and underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities, for careers in aerospace related fields.
  • Develop a strong science, mathematics, and technology education base from elementary through university levels.

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A Nickel’s Worth of Free Advice: Biotech and the Law

This year’s participants in Emerging Techniques in Protein and Genetic Engineering, a two-credit graduate course offered in partnership with the Department of Oncology, UW-Madison, held July 17-21, 2017.

Today’s author extends thanks to Heather Gerard, Intellectual Property Manager, Promega Corporation for contributing her expertise to this post.

Students most often come to the BTC Institute with the primary goal of learning about molecular biology technologies. Our mission is to help them update their experimental tool-box, facilitating more capable studies of DNA, RNA and proteins back in their home laboratories.

But what else do we do? Well, we’re glad you asked.

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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.

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