TIFTON — Tift County High School is now offering a course that helps prepare students for careers in medicine and agriculture.
The “Introduction to Biotechnology” course is being offered with training from the University of Georgia’s Tifton Campus and with a grant from the Georgia Work Ready Program. The course is accepted as a science elective for high school graduation and is approved by the Board of Regents.
The biotech course is hands-on. Craig Matthews, Tift County Schools’ career tech and agriculture education director, said the hands-on aspects are only going to get better for students by the end of the course.
Approximately 20 students under the instruction of Denver Dunn are learning 21st century lab protocols and skills, said Susan Reinhardt, the director of UGA’s Students & Teachers Applying Real-Life Science Program, also known as STARS.
She said funds provided by the Work Ready grant will give students exposure to state-of-the-art laboratory equipment as they learn to use spectrophotometers, micropipettes, digital balances, gel electrophoresis boxes and microcentrifuges to perform biochemical applications and techniques.
“This hands-on course is part of a medical career pathway, but skills taught are applicable to careers not only in medicine but also agriculture,” Reinhardt noted.
Helene Dutcher, an instructional coach and TCHS assistant principal, said the students in the course have been enthusiastic about it and get to use up-to-date equipment — integrating technology with instruction. Dutcher said the course will provide students with a background that will lead to many connections in career options.
The Work Ready Program offers skills assessments for job-seekers, job profiles for businesses and science education for students, Reinhardt said. She explained that a key component of the program is the partnership between industry and education, and the skills taught in the biotech class were some requested by area industries.
The UGA’s STARS Program saw it as an opportunity to continue its biotech teacher training program begun under the supervision of Dr. Peggy Ozias-Akins’ laboratory while at the same time equipping classrooms with the biotech equipment.
“It is a chance for students to better understand the concepts taught in class through hands-on applications; and what they are taught, they see all around them as new plants and seeds are developed in agriculture and new pharmaceuticals in medicine,” Reinhardt said. “Even programs like “CSI” help to highlight the biotech industry.”
Jimmy Cargle, who has been teaching a biotech class in agriculture for four years at the high school, said he recently taught his class DNA electrophoresis, which involves the analysis of DNA in a crime scene, paternity testing and livestock. Also, students extracted their own DNA — epithelial cells from their own mouths — and placed it into a clear vial to wear as a necklace.
Cargle said the biotech students are applying what they learn in the classroom.
“We’re very fortunate in Tift County to have this laboratory (located in the Agriscience building), which is one of a kind in the state seen by the foreknowledge of Superintendent Patrick Atwater, who is a strong component of higher-level education” Cargle said.
He said that Reinhardt, along with NESPAL – UGA’s National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory – are major forces in promoting the instruction and development of biotech courses for Tifton and surrounding counties.
“Biotech class is a direct result of Susan Reinhardt’s efforts,” Cargle said.
The bioscience industry has remained steady in these economic times, earning it the title of “recession resistant,” according to Charlie Craig, president of Georgia Bio, a private non-profit life science industry association.
Georgia Bio’s 2011 “Shaping Infinity” report highlights the economic impact of the industry and its opportunities for employment.
Reinhardt said the Georgia Bioscience Technology Institute’s effort is to get students involved in biotech to attract bioscience industries. She said that Georgia has lost some bioscience industries to North Carolina because the Peach State does not have available skilled workers in the field.
She said other partners who have helped fund teacher training in past years include Tift Regional Medical Center and Dr. Jessica Beier, while Moultrie and Wiregrass technical colleges have administered Work Ready assessments and job profiles for industries.
For more information about biotech activities or upcoming workshops, contact Reinhardt at 386-3050 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the STARS website, www.ugastars.org.