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Students, teachers participate in bioscience program


August 08, 2008

While many of their peers were off enjoying summer vacations, 58 talented and dedicated Valley high school students and teachers engaged in solving real-world problems alongside Biodesign Institute scientists as part of Arizona’s largest high school bioscience internship program at ASU.

Twenty-four high schools in 14 districts with existing or emerging biotechnology programs were invited to send a teacher to participate in the internship program. The teachers, in turn, helped select students for the paid six-week internship. Among the participating teachers were three from the Teach For America initiative, the nation’s largest provider of teachers for low-income communities.

Now in its third year, the Biodesign Institute High School Internship program’s expanded scope was made possible through a $50,000 grant from the ASU Foundation’s Women and Philanthropy program.

“By including teachers for the first time in our internship program, we are helping them introduce more students to potential bioscience careers than ever before, with a potential impact on more than 4,000 Arizona high school students in the coming academic year,” says Richard Fisher, the Biodesign Institute’s director of educational outreach. “The timing couldn’t have been better. As more Arizona high schools develop biotechnology programs, teachers can use their Biodesign experience to bolster their expertise and curriculum development.”

“Introducing science concepts to students this early will reap a lot of rewards for building a brain-based industry like biotechnology,” says Ben Perodeau, a biology teacher from Tolleson Union’s University High School.

Each student-teacher team worked on a research project tackling a pressing societal problem, ranging from decontamination of groundwater to building nanostructures for diagnostics or working on cures for infectious diseases and cancer. Perodeau and his student partner, upcoming junior Dulce Gomez, spent their internship with a Biodesign research team that is developing a vaccine against the disease tularemia, which is a potential biothreat against which no effective vaccine exists.

The challenging work is motivating 16-year-old Gomez to take a 90-minute bus ride to and from Tolleson each day.

“I’ve always loved science, although sometimes the work can be a little difficult to explain to my parents,” she says.

Each student-teacher pair was mentored by a Biodesign Insititute researcher who supervised their day-to-day progress.

The daily exposure to the large research teams and world-class facilities of the institute gave the interns an in-depth introduction to the career of a research scientist.

Biology teacher Michelle Landreville from the Mesa High School Biotech Academy marveled at the pace of innovation and discovery.

“We didn’t even extract DNA when I was in college, so this is all new to me,” Landreville says. “The Biodesign Institute is a very stimulating environment where everyone encourages you to think out of the box.”

For upcoming senior Jennifer Lino of La Joya Community High School, the opportunity to investigate the causes of esophageal cancer had a very special, personal motivation. “My father had throat surgery (for cancer) when I was a little kid,” she says. “Now he breathes through a tube in his throat. I hope that, someday, nobody else will have to go through his struggle.”

Julie Kurth, julie.kurth@asu.edu
(480) 727-9386
Biodesign Institute