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A Bay Area High School Biotech Consortium Supports Teachers & Students

The Bay Area is home to one of the most innovative high school biotech programs in the country, offering hands-on laboratory training, science curriculum and kits, and teacher training to hundreds of classrooms, and creating a talented career pipeline for the industry.  The Bay Area Biotechnology Education Consortium (BABEC)http://www.babec.org/ encompasses five partnerships in the region, including San Francisco and San Mateo Counties, the South, East and North Bay.

The San Mateo program, Gene Connection (G=C), was created 20 years ago and to date has served more than 158,000 students. G=C’s purpose is to provide all San Mateo high school teachers with the equipment, supplies, technical support and training needed to conduct hands-on biotechnology experiments with students of all academic levels. Today, over 10,000 students and 118 teachers use over 20 Gene Connection lab modules and benefit from the program’s teacher professional development and mentoring components each year.

Students of diverse backgrounds (35% of high school student is San Mateo County are Latino) gain critical laboratory skills and exposure to life science careers through a substantive program that combines PCR, fluorescent protein, forensic and C. elegans lab activities, industry-based internships and independent research. A key goal of the program is to give students the skills and confidence needed to pursue additional education and enter the life science technical workforce.

San Mateo educators are also fortunate to benefit from the professional development opportunities of the Gene Connection program. Teachers receive free training on a series of laboratory modules, access loaned science kits and benefit from one-on-one mentoring with a Gene Connection mentor.

Many in the life sciences community, such as Genentech and VWR, have recognized what a valuable asset G=C is and support the program through funding and donated supplies. Through a partnership with the San Mateo County Biotech ROP, Gene Connection students also have the opportunity to participate in valuable hands-on learning through internships in companies such as Genencor, Gilead, Exelexis and others.

At a time when California students continue to perform in the bottom quartiles in science and math and the state budget crisis starves already under-resourced classrooms, Gene Connection and the other BABEC Partnership programs are hard at work creating a scientifically literate, technically trained workforce that will continue to feed California’s life science innovation.