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June 4, 2024

Biotechnology curriculum piloted in Worcester schools seek to spark interest in subject

A group of high school students in a lab Photo | Courtesy of BioTechBuilder Worcester public high school students participating in the BioTechBuilder pilot.

A former instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a pilot program at Worcester Public Schools as part of the effort to create the next generation of biotechnology workers.

The program, called BioTechBuilder, aims to give high school students hands-on experience in the field, offering them the opportunity to consider employment opportunities in the field regardless of whether or not they end up enrolling in college.

The eight-week pilot program at WPS concluded in May. Natalie Kuldell, executive director of Newton-based nonprofit BioBuilder Educational Foundation, said the pilot program was a success and she’s looking to make the program available to interested teachers nationwide in the coming months.

“I couldn’t have gotten it off the ground without the really wonderful openness to trying new things that I have found in the Worcester area,” Kuldell said.

The need for talent in the biotechnology field is high in Central Massachusetts, she said.

“Central Massachusetts is very well positioned to lead in biomanufacturing, so to have that array of talent that will enable students to come in as entry-level workers and move up through job advancements is important,” she said.

The full BioTechBuilder program will be a year-long course available to high schools across the country. The pilot program in Worcester was a collaborative effort between BioBuilder Educational Foundation, Worcester incubator Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Clark University in Worcester, and the Worcester Public Schools system.

The program is designed to be easily adoptable for schools, as it fits into the kind of teaching that instructors are already doing, according to Kuldell.

“The work I was doing at MIT was really exciting to me, but I realized that if I wanted to get this into high schools, I had to work with high school teachers,” she said. 

BioTechBuilder is designed to be a stackable curriculum starting with the basics of working in a laboratory environment, including working safely with personal protective equipment and proper disposal of materials. Once those basic skills are established, more advanced topics involving topics like DNA, biotechnology, and synthetic biology can be explored.

“It makes teachers' hearts sink when they hear their students say ‘Why are we learning this?’” Kuldell said. “In every moment of this curriculum, it’s very clear why students are learning.”

High school teachers who are interested in participating in BioTechBuilder during its wider launch should contact the foundation. 

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