Iowa Students to Learn the Process of Making Medicines
Jason Sullivan (right), a science supervisor at Montgomery High School in New Jersey, shows his student Christian Aurup how to use molecular modeling to explore the process of making medicines. Sullivan, who helped develop and now uses the RxeSEARCH curriculum in his classroom, is a master teacher in Iowa this summer, training other high school teachers to implement the program. Secondary students in 20 school districts in Iowa will have a new addition to their curriculums this fall when they return to their classrooms. This summer, their teachers are learning to deliver an 11-lesson course called RxeSEARCH: An Educational Journey.
The RxeSEARCH program, created by Bristol-Myers Squibb and now led by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, takes students from the spark of an idea through the R&D process to the eventual delivery of the medicine to patients.
“This program offers an interdisciplinary approach, integrating chemistry and biology with mathematics, language arts and the social sciences,” said Anders Hedberg, director of corporate philanthropy at Bristol-Myers Squibb. “Not only does the program promote workforce development, it offers a deeper understanding of the processes and challenges of making medicines.”
Four teachers from Montgomery High School in New Jersey will lead the Iowa summer institute and train their counterparts how to teach the course. These master teachers helped create the curriculum, led last summer’s institute in New Jersey, and have taught the RxeSEARCH course in their science classes.
“The Montgomery School District has taken a leadership role in this educational initiative because we believe it is important to address education needs in innovative ways, even if we help develop new approaches ourselves,” said Earl Kim, Montgomery School District superintendent. “At least one parent in more than half of our students’ families is employed in the pharmaceutical sector. We look at the RxeSEARCH program as a cutting edge workforce development program.”
New Jersey partnering school districts in the RxeSEARCH initiative include Hopewell Valley, Princeton, West Windsor-Plainsboro, Newark, New Brunswick and Montgomery. Other pharmaceutical companies involved in the program are GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Schering-Plough, and Wyeth, along with the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey.
Science Supervisor Jason Sullivan of Hopewell Borough and teachers Craig Buszka of Plainsboro, David English of Lambertville and Paul Spinelli of Monroe got involved with the RxeSEARCH program three years ago, when Bristol-Myers Squibb invited them and other educators in the region to partner in an initiative designed to improve science education.
The program they developed, in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Education and the National Science Resources Center, a science education center of excellence affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences, teaches how medicines are made. The curriculum is designed to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills in high school students as well as to improve science and technology education.
“Working teachers almost never have the opportunity to develop cutting edge curriculum and then to teach it in their classrooms, much less to serve as master teachers training other teachers,” said Sullivan, a chemistry and physics teacher. “This has been a tremendous opportunity for us. We consider the experience the best kind of professional development.”
The three-day summer institute in Fort Dodge, Iowa, is modeled after sessions held in New Jersey the last two summers. Thirty teachers from 20 Iowa school districts are expected to participate in this summer’s institute, which is sponsored by Des Moines University, Iowa Department of Economic Development and Fort Dodge Animal Health, a division of Wyeth, and Iowa Central Community College, where the institute is being held from June 24 to 26.
This is the second year the Iowa community college has been involved in the program. Last summer, representatives from Iowa Central and from Humboldt High School attended the RxeSEARCH summer institute held at Montgomery High School.
“We invited the master teachers from New Jersey to present the curriculum this week in Fort Dodge,” said Jim Kersten, vice president of Development and Government Relations at Iowa Central. He noted that Iowa Central has strong local partnerships with 28 high schools in nine counties. Recently the college promoted an $18 million bond issue, passed by the voters in 2007, which funds programs in science and math, among other subject areas. “This is the perfect outgrowth of that effort,” Kersten said.
For Fort Dodge Animal Health, workforce development is critically important to the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to provide new medicines.
“RxeSEARCH will teach students about the complex and challenging pharmaceutical research and development process. It will expose future scientists to career opportunities and demystify the process that brings drugs to patients,” said Tom Berry, senior vice president for Global Manufacturing at Fort Dodge Animal Health. “The shortage of trained technical workers is a critical issue for us. Programs like RxeSEARCH enable us to reach out to high school students, promoting workforce development.”
Wesley Metheny, senior vice president, Alliances, Affordability and Access for PhRMA and chairman of the RxeSEARCH Steering Committee added, “The RxeSEARCH curriculum exposes science teachers and their students to the diverse disciplines involved in discovering and commercializing pharmaceutical drugs. The curriculum demonstrates very clearly the importance of science literacy. Understanding chemistry, biology and mathematics can be crucial in a range of careers from discovery research to manufacturing, law and communications.”
For more information, contact:
Fred Egenolf, Director, Community Affairs
Princeton, New Jersey 08540