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N.J. High School brings study of biology to life

Chances are your ninth-grade biology class did not have a genetic engineering lab for experiments in DNA extraction and genetic fingerprinting. Students at Lawrence Township High School in Lawrenceville, N.J., however, have that and more thanks to the BioPhase Project. Funded in part by Bristol Myers Squibb, the BioPhase Project is the focal point of a district biology curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning, cross-disciplinary problem solving and better understanding of careers in the biosciences.

“We’re preparing today’s students for jobs that may not even exist yet,” said Yvette Panasowich, the district’s supervisor for math and science instruction for middle school and high school students. “Our students need to learn the material and learn how to apply that knowledge to new situations and new challenges.”

Two grants from Bristol Myers Squibb enabled the district to purchase about 200 pieces of lab equipment and other supplies that students are using to conduct experiments in DNA extraction, amplification and purification; gel electrophoresis; restriction digests; and a variety of other biotechnical procedures.

One lesson recalls the plot of a Hollywood movie as students interpret DNA fingerprints to identify the viral strain responsible for a potentially deadly (and fictitious) disease outbreak. In another experiment, students observe how resistance to antibiotics develops in common bacteria.

Bristol Myers Squibb, which operates a facility in Lawrence Township, views its involvement as part of the company’s long history of supporting science education and of contributing to its local communities.

“As a science-based company, Bristol Myers Squibb has long been a champion of reform for scientific education as well as a strong supporter of the communities where our employees live and work,” said Frederick J. Egenolf, director, Community Affairs. “Hands-on, inquiry-centered, experiential-learning helps students better understand abstract scientific concepts and get excited about science. We’re pleased to help launch just such a program in one of our local communities.”

The challenge of improving knowledge of math and science has become especially urgent in today’s increasingly global and high-tech economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings requiring science, engineering or technical training will have increased by 22 percent from 2004 to 2014.

At the same time, studies show America – while improving – still lags when it comes to preparing students for these jobs. Just 15 percent of American fourth- and eighth-graders reached the “advanced” benchmark on the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS, 2007) test. By contrast, in Singapore 36 percent of fourth- and eighth-graders achieved the advanced level.

Fundraising for BioPhase was spearheaded by the Lawrence Township Education Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises money to supplement the local school district’s budget. “School budgets everywhere in New Jersey are under increasing pressure and Lawrence Township is no exception,” said foundation Executive Director Diane Senerth. “This new biology curriculum would not have been possible without the generosity of Bristol Myers Squibb. We are extremely grateful to have them as a neighbor and as a partner in our children’s education.”

Bristol Myers Squibb has been a national leader in efforts to strengthen science teaching through teacher training, curriculum development and direct funding for state-of-the-art science teaching materials.

The company collaborated with New Jersey’s Rider University to create the Bristol Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning for improving science education at the elementary and high school levels. The company collaborated with Montclair State University to create a similar center.

Bristol Myers Squibb also led the development of RxeSEARCH: An Educational Journey, an innovative, multidisciplinary curriculum to educate youth about how medicines are made. The curriculum, which is now owned by the National Science Resources Center, has been adopted by more than 40 high schools in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Iowa.