ABE-LA held their Genetic Engineering Professional Development Institute (PDI) at the Brody Botanical Center at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Here are the highlights of this intense 4-day workshop series.

Participants immersed themselves in a training that combined biotech hands-on lab experiments, technology integration, curriculum implementation strategies and resources, networking, and invaluable insights from biotech industry professionals. The ABE-LA Team is incredibly grateful to everyone who contributed to the success of this PDI, from dedicated staff members to supportive program partners, to volunteer guest speakers and lab interns, and of course the amazing high school teachers who dedicated 4 full days of their summer vacation to this biotech training!

Planning started 2 months in advance to develop a workshop series that will best benefit HS teachers and meet their students’ needs. The ABE-LA team integrates feedback from previous PDIs as well as recent best practices to make informed improvements.

Participants are required to attend a synchronous virtual meeting to prepare for the in-person workshop through an introduction to the ABE-LA team and its 6 distribution centers as well as its history and program offerings. Teachers were also introduced to the virtual LabXchange (LXC) platform and learned how to use LXC simulations, virtual labs, and videos for curriculum implementation and lab troubleshooting to complement the ABE-LA curriculum. ABE-LA new program director, Shahira Badran, emphasized the importance of LXC implementation during the in-person workshop and showed teachers how LXC can prepare students for ABE labs, assess their understanding of lab concepts and their real-world applications, refine their critical thinking skills, lab skills and techniques, as well as assist them with data analysis, interpretation and troubleshooting. Moving forward, teachers can create pathways and courses for personalized student learning and gain access to a wealth of STEM resources and career narratives on LXC. Teachers found the LXC session effective in enhancing their understanding of molecular biology/genetics concepts, ABE curriculum, and the lab skills required. Most teachers plan to assign some or all LXC activities to their students. Teachers who reported challenges with tech glitches and system incompatibility, received technical support from the ABE-LA team.

During the in-person workshop, teachers stepped into the role of scientists to conduct the complete genetic engineering lab series under the expert guidance of ABE-LA Master Technician Karin Steinhauer. Teachers learned how to use micropipettes and other lab tools to conduct experiments that included transforming bacteria with recombinant DNA that contains the Red Fluorescent Protein (RFP) gene to create RFP as a recombinant protein product. Biotech companies apply similar genetic engineering techniques in bioprocessing/biomanufacturing to produce recombinant proteins that can be purified to receive FDA approval as therapeutic products. Teachers developed their lab skills, observed, and analyzed data, and received many classroom implementation resources and strategies using ABE’s full Genetic Engineering curriculum.

Shahira and Professor Jo Wu (ABE-LA Fullerton College Site Coordinator) introduced teachers to the biology/biotechnology concepts underlying these techniques and their real world applications, and provided a wealth of digital resources that teachers can implement in their classrooms to ensure that students understand these concepts and learn how biotech tools and techniques can be used for manufacturing therapeutic proteins. To keep teachers engaged and provide constant review, the presenters used Kahoots (quiz questions), and kept score to give away biotech lab equipment for the highest scores.

About 60 % of PDI participants have been teaching over 8 years, and almost 80 % were already ABE teachers who were seeking a refresher workshop. Although participants came with different academic and technical backgrounds causing variation in their level of understanding, interest, knowledge and/or skills in related areas, they reported that this PDI significantly enhanced their knowledge of molecular biology concepts, lab skills, and ABE curriculum implementation as indicated by our post-survey outcome.

Shahira presented on the importance of implementing biotech career exploration activities to complement the ABE curriculum and raise awareness for biotech workforce needs and hiring trends. To that effect, she provided an overview of the current SoCal biotech landscape, biotech domains, real-world applications, and products, as well as biotech job areas, scientific/non-scientific biotech careers, and biotech education pathways. Shahira invited industry guest speakers Willie Zuniga, Former President of Grifols Biologicals and Jacqueline Hantgan, Senior Advisor of Community Outreach and Advocacy for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Willie continues to be a champion for Education and Workforce development in LA by supporting career pathways at local universities and colleges; youth empowerment efforts that promote STEM and post-secondary education; and collaborations to create certificate programs promoting greater employment opportunities to retain talent. He shared an insightful presentation that focused on the history of Grifols, and its FDA and EU licensed plasma manufacturing facilities, as well as Grifols hiring trends, bio-manufacturing careers and their benefits. Jacqueline focused on CIRM funded internship opportunities that connect students with industry professionals. Since it has been an ABE-LA tradition to host a “veteran teacher” as guest speaker, we are very grateful to Anthony Fernandes, an ABE-LA biology teacher for 18 years (LA Salle High School), who presented on his history and first-hand experience with ABE-LA and his new extension project at the Pasadena Bio Collaborative. Anthony is investigating the effect of different sugars on RFP Gene expression in E. coli and hopes to use similar topics for project-based learning with his students. Teachers value their peer’s insight into the practical aspects of ABE curriculum implementation and its short- and long-term impact on students’ performance and interest in pursuing STEM/Biotech careers, as well as teachers’ success in closing academic, gender and socioeconomic gaps as they assist students in achieving learning outcomes.

Our goal is to provide teachers and students access to cutting-edge science and introduce them to the excitement of scientific inquiry and discovery through our engaging biotech curriculum and learning experiences. Our innovative science education program equips teachers to build bridges between academic programs and real-world bioscience applications to prepare the next generation of scientists and innovators. Furthermore, the ABE-LA site coordinators are fully committed to providing teachers with curriculum and technical support as they implement labs into their classroom through ongoing troubleshooting and “out of the box” problem solving. Karin Steinhauer was assisted by Luz, our CSUCI site coordinator, and Mitsy, our LA Mission College lab assistant, as well as intern students from the Pasadena Bio Collaborative.

The ABE-LA team prides itself on maintaining an excellent relationship with teachers post training and continuing to provide technical and lab support including troubleshooting. As the workshop came to an end, teachers left with a certificate of completion, a network of peers, access to technical and curriculum support from the ABE-LA staff, a wealth of resources, and many lab equipment donations from the Amgen Warehouse! Please continue to monitor our website to register for upcoming teacher meetings and training workshops.