Dressed in lab coats with gloves and shoe covers, 13 area high school students swabbed different areas of the laboratory room at Montgomery County Community College (Montco) to see what microorganisms might exist on different surfaces. They placed the samples in petri dishes of agar to see what would grow, and then they identified the specimens using microscopes.
This was only one of several hands-on activities the students performed throughout the four-day BIOMAN Academy—a program held June 26-29, 2017 for area high school students designed to introduce them to different science careers, including biotechnology and biomanufacturing.
Free for participants, the program is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation Montco received as part of the Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative (NBC2). The grant also funds other programs to educate and train students, as well as science educators. For the past decade, NBC2 has collaborated with local biomanufacturers, educators and organizations to create a suite of instructional materials for the education and training of the technical workforce for this industry.
“To engage the students, we focused on hands-on lab experiments with brief lectures,” said Dr. Margaret Bryans, coordinator and assistant professor of Biotechnology. “Students have the opportunity to use the high-tech, biotechnology equipment that is available here and to learn about bioscience careers.”
Several students, including Joey McGee of Bridgeport, attended BIOMAN for that very reason.
“I enjoyed biology in school and wanted to check out what I could be doing. My favorite activity was learning how to extract green fluorescent protein from E. coli bacteria,” he said.
During the lab exercises, students learned about such proteins, as well as variable number tandem repeat DNA extractions, polymerase chain reactions and quality control microbiology, among others topics.
“The main goal of the program is to show students what they can do with a career in bioscience,” said Dr. Matthew Marshall, NBC2 Grant program manager. “We had speakers come in to talk about their career paths and what they did in college, including externships and research, and the steps they took as they started their careers.”
The speakers included Associate Scientist Suna Lumeh from Janssen Biotherapeutics and Project and Operations Manager Aykan Karabudak from ImmProNano Solutions.
Participants included Aiesha Parmar, Anna Portis, Bibek Moktan, Brendan Kabinoff, Gabriela Pagan Vidal, Joey McGee, Jonathan Sanchez, Jordyn Dennis, Marc Williams, Maxwell Vance, Nazhe Nicholson, Sofiya Lysenko, and Willow Neske. Students came from several local high schools including Radnor, Upper Merion, Central, Upper Dublin, Boy’s Latin Charter School of Philadelphia, Abington, Bridgeport S.T.R.E.A.M. Academy, Pennridge, Philadelphia Montgomery Christian Academy, and Plymouth Whitemarsh.
Montgomery County Community College offers a 64-credit Associate in Applied Science degree in Biotechnology, as well as a 16-credit Certificate of Completion in Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing. The latter is designed to provide hands-on, industry-relevant training to students who already hold associate’s or bachelor’s degrees and who wish to obtain the skills required to enter a careers in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical field.