After studying and working together in real-world applications of cell culture as part of Gloucester High School’s new BioTrek program, about 150 students heard Thursday how what they learned could lead to a career in biotech.
As part of the career programming aspect of BioTrek, a program that focuses on teaching students about cutting-edge advanced manufacturing and biofabrication, officials of the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute and its Gloucester Biotechnology Academy were at the school to present to the students, mostly freshmen.
Matt Long, the education and workforce development program coordinator at ARMI, which stands for Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, and its BioFabUSA program in Manchester, New Hampshire, said he got involved with Gloucester High through its partnership with GMGI and its workforce development initiatives.
“It felt like a natural fit to bring our BioTrek program to Gloucester High School,” said Long. “We have been piloting this project-based, career-focused biofabrication curriculum in high schools through New Hampshire and this is our first one in Massachusetts.”
“These students did so well,” Long said. “They excelled in this program. They really grabbed it by the horns and engaged in all of the different opportunities it presented, from developing business models to digging into the cutting-edge science. They did really, really well.”
The program also taught students workforce and collaboration skills, the understanding of the science, and about a possible career in life sciences here on Cape Ann, said Gloucester High biology and biotech teacher Eric Leigh.
The program had students working in small groups to identify a problem in society. They then learned about biofabrication to come up with a solution, such as creating a replacement cell, tissue or organ. The students also came up with a business model for their product.
One student in the program was freshman Lexi Thomas, 15, whose group Bio Baby developed a biological way for premature babies to develop.
“We came up with a plan to almost like keep the growth and development factors that the baby needs to keep growing, but outside of the mother so it causes no harm to the mother while also developing the baby in a healthy way,” Thomas said.
“We didn’t win, but our group had a lot of fun doing it,” Thomas added. “It was a great program. I felt it was really useful, helpful in all the learning and I really enjoyed doing it.”
Leigh said the all biology classes at the high school worked together in real-world applications of cell culture, including tissue culture and on possible cures for organ replacement.
Leigh said the students spent 2 1/2 weeks developing their ideas before pitching them to their class and teachers and later to industry experts.
The group Bushfield Biotech, made up of freshmen Jeremiah Bushfield, Foster Bairstow, Aidan Woods and Haven Doud, won the competition.
“Our project was about manufacturing skin for skin cancer patients and it could also help with burn victims,” Bushfield said.
What impressed the judges?
“I think our slide show was really well done and we worked really well together as a team along with having a good drive for winning,” he said.
Chris Bolzan, GMGI’s executive director, helped judge the pitch competition Tuesday.
She also pitched the idea of GMGI’s Biotechnology Academy to the BioTrek participants.
“This program has enabled local high school graduates, the age range is about 18 to 30, to be trained to become biotechnology lab technicians. and our students go on to work in labs all across the state, in Boston, in Cambridge, and this year there are students elsewhere.”
John Doyle, Ph.D., the education director, spoke about the vocational training program for high school graduates and STEM enrichment courses in the summer for students for ages 13 to 18.
The program for high school graduates takes place over 10 months, seven at the academy working in the lab, and three at a paid internship at a company. The average salary for graduates is $45,000 a year to start, he said.
“I thought it was interesting,” Thomas said of the Biotechnology Academy’s pitch to students. “I didn’t know that it did so many things for the community and so many things for people that actually want to pursue that type of career.”
An open house for GMGI’s Biotechnology Academy, located at 55 Blackburn Center, is scheduled for May 10, 3 to 5 p.m.
Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com.