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NSF aids biotechnology education effort


July 31, 2006

ASU's Biodesign Institute and Polytechnic campus, in addition to Mesa Community College (MCC) and Mesa Public Schools (MPS), have been awarded a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in response to work force needs in the biosciences field.

“This partnership and grant will help jump-start a comprehensive, highly trained bioscience work force development program to expand Arizona 's knowledge-based economy,” says ASU associate professor Steve Slater of the Biodesign Institute's Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology and ASU's Polytechnic campus.

Recent studies conducted in conjunction with the state of Arizona show an immediate need for qualified bioscience laboratory technicians, with demand outstripping supply by a factor of four. Studies also reveal that the lack of skilled technicians coincides with the lack of a true “2+2+2 program,” in which high school students are introduced to biotechonology and follow a seamless transition from high school to community college to baccalaureate-granting institutions.

Slater is a leader on the NSF award, along with professor Lewis Obermiller, director of the Biotechnology Program at Mesa Community College , and Xan Simonson, coordinator of the Mesa Public Schools Biotechnology Academy and chair of the Department of Life Sciences at Mesa High.

“This is not only great for the students but also for the state of Arizona , because it limits the amount of time needed to produce quality workers in this field,” Obermiller says.

The grant will focus on meeting work force demands for trained bioscience lab technicians by:

• Introducing summer workshops to high school instructors so they can develop or advance biotech courses and programs at their local institutions.

• Establishing a formal partnership between MCC and regional high schools to earn college credit for general studies lab science during their high school biotech programs.

• Creating formal partnerships with ASU's Polytechnic campus and Biodesign Institute for additional student opportunities.

• Establishing a formal partnership agreement with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) for MCC faculty and student research internships.

• Identifying ways to streamline the transfer process to bioscience baccalaureate programs at ASU.

The proposed activities bring together ASU, MPS and MCC in a true 2+2+2 model that is unique and can be disseminated easily and integrated into other biotechnology programs across the country.

MCC students will work in conjunction with ASU's Polytechnic students and Mesa Public School 's high school students on an integrated genome project. The project bridges academic programs with ASU's state-of-the-art industrial biotechnology production facilities and quality-control methodologies to sequence the genomes of bacteria that are of great importance to biotechnology.

“We know of no other 2+2+2 program in the country where students will get real hands-on experience in their coursework as part of a research project that will be published,” Slater says.