Construction Of Biotechnology Laboratory Underway At JSEC

Biotechnology program offers strong academic and job-training skills

As the demand grows for highly qualified workers in the field of biotechnology, the certificate program at the William B. Cooley Educational Complex is preparing to train them to meet this need. Enhancing the program’s curriculum, job training and internship experiences is the construction of a biotechnology lab that will offer students hands-on experience in all aspects of a lab sciences career.

The new biotechnology laboratory will occupy a classroom previously used as a dual classroom and laboratory and will provide space to conduct experiments, use state-of-the-art equipment, demonstrate proficiency in lab techniques and develop student-centered lab experiences that solidify the content of genetics, evolution and biology.

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Construction of a new biotechnology laboratory and classroom is underway at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex. The project is expected to be completed by the end of October.

The state-of-the-art laboratory was designed and equipped to mirror biotechnology firms and university labs. The design encompasses three distinct spaces; a classroom, a lab space and a clean room between them. The classroom will be utilized for traditional instruction to include lectures, group work and class discussions. The clean room is dedicated for lab preparation and use of the skills and techniques that are standard practice in the industry, where students will wear lab coats, sterilized gloves and glasses and, in some cases, a suit that covers them from head to toe to prevent contamination before entering the lab.

This facility will be utilized by CTE students to work on lab assignments that both complement the curriculum and increase students’ capacity in the various skills and techniques needed in business, industry, technical schools and colleges. Since students will have access to a highly functioning lab, they will be able to meet many Vocational Biotechnology Standards.

Funding for the $100,000 laboratory was provided by the Rhode Island Department of Education through the Career and Technical Education Categorical Fund created by the R.I. General Assembly. A ribbon-cutting is expected to be held in November when construction is completed.

“As part of a three-phase plan, we have been strategically purchasing equipment over the last several years and now have amassed enough to pursue biotechnology education in a meaningful way.” said Benjamin Gormley, the lead teacher for the biotechnology program at Sanchez..” This year, the purchasing was focused around infrastructure. Coupling the lab with the previously purchased equipment should provide a real-world environment for students to work in.”

Biotechnology program prepares students for various post-secondary options

Students at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex, who are enrolled in the William B. Cooley Health and Science Technology Biotechnology/BioMedical major, are able to earn an advanced certificate in biotechnology. The program is one of just three in the state and efforts to improve programming are continuously underway.

The JSEC biotechnology program is designed to prepare students for a very large growth sector in both the Rhode Island and national economies. According to a 2013 Bioscience Skills Study by Tech Collective and funded by the Governor’s Workforce Board, bioscience is one of Rhode Island’s highest growth potential industries.  From 2002-2012, employment in the biosciences grew by 24 percent, which is significant in a state with sagging job growth. Every respondent to the report’s employer survey indicated that the lack of skilled workers to hire is their biggest challenge. Industry leaders reported that good clinical and laboratory practices are among the largest skills gaps in their companies.

“We believe that, in delivering an educational experience that affords our students the opportunity to become emerging scientists, will not only lead to increased educational and career opportunities, but also contribute to local and national economies,” said Carina Monge, career and technical coordinator and community liaison at JSEC. “We strongly believe that directing motivated students into this dynamic field, where the potential for new products and lifesaving pharmaceuticals is limitless, will reap myriad benefits.”

JSEC currently has 70 students in the program and hopes to increase the enrollment by 10 percent each year. A recent School Board decision has provided the opportunity for all middle school students to choose their high school based on their career aspirations. Students are encouraged to select either a traditional high school route to include college preparatory programs or a CTE major that best aligns their high school and post-secondary options.

Students at JSEC take the same math and science courses as freshmen and sophomores. As a junior or senior, they must choose either a community development or Biotechnology/BioMedical  track.

As students transition to their senior year, they must complete three additional components to the program; BCH 190 Issues in Biotechnology, certifications and internships. Last year marked the first year that CTE students took a URI class for three credits and performed extremely well. This course is taught by Dr. Albert Kausch via his website and is now part of the regular CTE biotechnology curriculum. “Through lectures, quizzes and exams, stock market analysis and labs, our students experience a full college course before they graduate from high school, not only earning three transferable URI credits, but also the experience and confidence of completing a college-level course,” said Gormley.

Monge is working to expand the program’s community outreach as well as internship opportunities for students. An advisory board comprised of individuals from Lifespan, the Providence Health Center, Amgen, Monsanto, Rhode Island Hospital, the American Red Cross, the Rhode Island Blood Center, to name a few, along with local colleges and universities, offer students opportunities to intern at their companies to gain workplace experience, networking potential and a professional atmosphere in which to pursue a career in the field.

“The advisory board will support and ensure that JSEC prepares and trains students for a successful transition from high school to college or a technical path,” said Monge.

A partnership with Junior Achievement assists students in resume building and prepares them with “soft skills” for the college and workplace environments.

Top meet VBIOT and state CTE requirements, students must obtain four certifications. The 10-hour OSHA training in general industry/health care is expected to be very beneficial to JSEC students as they search for jobs since they are already certified in workplace safety and health responsibility and awareness. The CPR/AED certification is also very valuable. Blood pathogens is the newest addition to the certification arsenal, where students learn about potential risks involving blood and how to safeguard against them.

The last of the certifications centers on workplace skills, where a community volunteer in conjunction with Junior Achievement works through seven modules designed to prepare students for the workplace.

“As students achieve these certifications, they are truly preparing themselves for success for both post-secondary options, improving their own marketability and career readiness, all of which are part of our CTE focus,” said Gormley.

Internships are another component of this program. To qualify for internships, students must complete their coursework, which includes all state-required courses as well as their biotechnology classes and optional Advanced Placement courses. They must also prepare an application that includes a resume, teacher recommendation, and show potential as evidenced by extracurricular opportunities such as certifications, and by completing offerings that prepare them for the field.  Once students are assigned to an internship, they work closely with their mentor to achieve established career goals, immerse themselves in the field and put their newly acquired workplace skills to use.

Upon completing an internship, students present what they learned along with their independent research at one of JSEC’s science exposition nights. The event is judged in conjunction with the Providence After School Alliance (PASA), which assists CTE students in demonstrating that they have met certain standards and to reflect on their impact. By successfully completing this component, each student receives an additional half-credit that is added to their resume and transcript.

This program prepares students for a ladder of possibilities,” said Gormley. “With our biotechnology curriculum; certifications like OSHA, blood pathogens, CPR/First Aid; Junior Achievement’s Success Skills; real-world hands-on student-centered laboratory experiences; three URI credits; and college and career readiness, students are ready for a plethora of options. Those options range from an entry level position out of high school, a two-year certification program at CCRI or a four-year program at URI. This is a true CTE program that offers students a wide variety of career preparedness as well as a great science education along the way. ”

CPR training helps JSEC student save two lives

Bianca Cordova

Bianca Cordova, a biotechnology/medical student at JSEC and a member of the Class of 2014, demonstrates how she used CPR to save a life last winter.

Last winter, Bianca Cordova, a senior at JSEC, helped to save two lives using the CPR training she learned in the biotechnology program.

In mid-January, Bianca and her father, Carlos, were looking for work shoveling snow. As they went by Sam’s Market on Admiral Street around 11 a.m., Carlos noticed a large group of people in a corner. They pulled into the driveway of Sam’s Market and saw a man helping another man get up from the floor. Both appeared to be in their mid-30s.

As Bianca and her father emerged from the car, they saw the second man drop to the floor. Bystanders immediately called 911. Bianca noticed that the first man was turning blue and when the store clerked checked his pulse, there was none. The other man’s eyes were open but he was making gurgling noises. Carlos and a postal worker put the man on his side so he would not choke.

Bianca began to walk away, fearing she was about to see two people lose their lives before her eyes. “But my dad yelled at me and said, ‘Bianca, you took the CPR class, get over here.’”

She went to the first victim and began chest compressions as she learned in her CPR class. After 30 compressions, the man began breathing again. Carlos and the postal worker began CPR on the second victim as the ambulances arrived to take both men to the hospital.

“That day, I felt so good about myself,” said Bianca. “If it was not for my school giving me the opportunity to take the CPR class, those two guys would not be alive today.”