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The right STEM program can open the door to a STEM career

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2022

By Lydia Morrison, M.S.

Topic: Career advice, What is Trending in Science

Looking for life science STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education opportunities for yourself or students can be a daunting task. This blog will walk you through how to identify nearby programs that can introduce students to future careers in biology related fields.

 

How to find STEM educational opportunities in a particular field

Like the search for most experiences these days, the search for STEM programs in your field of interest starts on the internet. You can begin by searching for “STEM education programs in (insert your state or local area).” This will return a variety of webpages, including advertising for online programs, educational opportunities from local colleges and universities, as well as a number of non-profit organizations supporting STEM and STEAM education. But being more specific, by replacing the term “STEM” with more specific terms like “molecular biology” or “biotech” will narrow down results and focus your search. 

Non-profit organizations across the United States offer a variety of STEM kits, experiences, programs and fairs. These non-profit organizations are dedicated to creating a network of STEM education leaders, programs and events – a great place to start your search, as they often nicely outline opportunities in your field.

Basic online searches yield search results including online courses, take home kits and opportunities at local colleges, but did you know that Life Science companies also have great STEM resources and programs? For example, the New England Biolabs website offers videos and protocols of science experiments for children, information about requesting reagent donations, and links to local programs, competitions, and scholarships that NEB supports. We are dedicated to young scientists and scientific educators. 

This dedication extends to ensuring teachers have the resources they need to provide STEM experiences for all their students. The BioTeach program, run by MassBioEd, aims to provide teachers with materials for students and educators to carry out topical discussions and student-centered investigations. 

 

Students in the LEAH Knox summer program participate in hands on science with support from Mass BioTeach. 

 

 

What to look for in a STEM education experience

Hands-on experience is the most valuable part of STEM education, so look for opportunities with kits or practical laboratory experiences. BioBuilder®, the Massachusetts-based non-profit organization founded by Dr. Natalie Kuldell, provides STEM programming focused on synthetic biology. These types of programs integrate biology and engineering with hands-on lessons and club activities, and are typically available to high school students and educators. BioBuilder aims to bolster high school interest and awareness around synthetic biology research and careers, ultimately to help support problem-solving through the advancement of science. As Hiroko Kaczmarek, Educational Specialist at BioBuilder, says, “if a student doesn’t know, why would they choose to go into a field that they don’t know anything about?”

Another boon of STEM education programs is students’ opportunity to improve their communication skills by presenting their work in discussion or poster presentations. Discussing science can be daunting for students, and practice is crucial for making progress toward comfortably talking through experimental design, hypotheses and findings. Natalie Kuldell explains that “When we asked companies what they would look for in a high school intern, I thought they would say things like, ‘I want them to run a protein gel, or I want them to be able to isolate DNA.’ But what they said was ‘I want students that can communicate well.” 



Nicole Mumbi, recent graduate from Everett High School, presents her work at a poster session at a BioBuilder event held at Ginkgo Bioworks. 

 

 

STEM classes can launch technical careers

The summer of my eleventh year, I went to sleep away camp. But this all girls camp wasn’t focused on archery and swim tests; its focus was science. Instead of the crafts you might expect at a summer camp, we participated in feats of engineering and explored the wonders of chemistry. The experience fostered in me a curiosity; I found an endeavor where questions were encouraged, and the quest of answer-seeking was more important than the answer itself. It introduced a new way of thinking which ultimately led me to a career in science.

A good, hands-on STEM educational experience develops students’ capabilities which encourages them to pursue technical fields. BioBuilder participants frequently go on to careers in science. Natalie Kuldell calls it “life-changing education,” and perhaps it is even more so at the high school level, where basic science education can be built upon with practical hands-on learning and real-world science skills.  Nancy Otaluka was one of the first group of BioBuilder apprentices in 2016, and she is now a Clinical Research Assistant at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Nancy explained that her experience “was great at exposing me to more biology and lab skills that I wouldn’t have been able to get at my high school, including the basics of what you need to succeed in a lab.”  BioBuilder, BioTeach and other well-constructed STEM programs can become the foundation to build a career on.

 
When we asked companies what they would look for in a high school intern, I thought they would say things like, ‘I want them to run a protein gel, or I want them to be able to isolate DNA.’ But what they said was ‘I want students that can communicate well.
Natalie Kuldell, BioBuilder Inc.

NEB is proud to provide reagents and technical support to high school and collegiate teaching labs and educational courses in the US. NEB is also a supporter of iGEM, BioBuilder, and BioTeach programs and provides reagents, educational information and helpful tools to nurture tomorrow’s scientists. These are all programs that your student’s schools may participate in.

 



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