The Georgetown University Medical Center obtained a grant Nov. 13 to bring a new science education program to middle and high school students in the Washington, D.C. area.

The $217,475 grant was awarded by the Amgen Foundation, which gives money to nonprofit organizations that help to advance science education and the quality of health care worldwide. The Foundation will help GUMC launch the Amgen Biotech Experience in D.C. in 2014. The funding should last for two years and will be eligible for renewal in June 2015.
“I applied to make an impact on biotechnology education in D.C. metro schools,” grant recipient Jack Chirikjian, director of the GUMC biotechnology program, said.

The Amgen Biotech Experience, a three-week program, provides middle and high school teachers with a new curriculum and equipment at no charge to participating schools. For each teacher, Amgen Biotech Experience provides enough equipment, reagents and manuals for an anticipated maximum of 34 students, working in pairs. All equipment must be returned after three weeks.

“Teaching laboratory science and innovation can be challenging if teachers may not have the required science support, equipment, reagents, the proper teaching tools or the required science background,” Chirikjian said. “The anticipated outcome is that scientific concepts, and skill sets will be introduced to middle school and high school students at an early age.”

The Amgen Biotech Experience has been implemented in schools in the United States, United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. More than 50,000 students and science teachers participate each year, and the program has reached over 300,000 since its inception in 1990.

“The success of the Amgen Biotech Experience is due in large part to the grantees in our communities,” Amgen Foundation President Lim Terra said. “The collaboration with undergraduate institutions and nonprofit organizations helps give students real-world, hands-on lab experience to introduce them to the excitement of biotechnology and scientific discovery.”

According to Amgen Foundation spokesperson Kristen Davis, Amgen Biotech Experience was created to provide students with hands-on scientific experiences and to strengthen the quality of the science teaching workforce. Such resources have been scarce in recent years thanks to cutbacks in educational funding on a national level.

“The National Academies’ National Research Council has shown a significant connection between strong lab experiences and teachers’ abilities to generate student interest in science,” Davis said. “The Amgen Biotech Experience seeks to help make this connection in secondary school classrooms by introducing students to contemporary science techniques, including a robust, hands-on curriculum, research-grade equipment and comprehensive teacher training.”

In particular, Barbara Bayer, Georgetown senior associate dean of biomedical graduate education, emphasized the importance of teacher training. During the Amgen Biotech Experience, Chirikjian and a number of his colleagues will be present at the participating schools to help the students and teachers.

“This is actually helping instruct the teachers because a lot of the teachers don’t have enough background in this area to keep up with the technology,” Bayer said. “It’s reaching out to the community and providing our expertise for a need to accelerate education in this area.”

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that Amgen Biotech Experience has reached over 50,000 students and teachers since its inception. The program reaches 50,000 students and teachers each year and has had over 300,000 participants since its inception.

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