Group urges students to biotech industry

Ashleigh Gardner has seen the change in her classmates at A.R. Johnson Health Science & Engineering Magnet High School after they visited the laboratories and clinics at Medical College of Georgia.


"It's allowed us to see many different career fields that I know a lot of people weren't thinking about before, and it's opened up a lot of options for us," the 18-year-old senior said. "And that's a really good thing."

Georgia thinks so, too. Through a group called Georgia Bio, the state is working to encourage more students to think about going into the biomedical field. The group is helping to push for approval of a high school biotechnology curriculum by the State Board of Education this summer. It has started a pilot project in four counties that link high school programs with technical schools to produce biotechnology-related degrees, said Cinda Herndon-King, the director of education programs for Georgia Bio.

"We're trying to make sure there's a pipeline of workers (for biotech companies)," she said.

Dr. Herndon-King was in Augusta on Tuesday to look at the MCG-A.R. Johnson partnership and talk about how the school can take advantage of an educational mission that teacher Carl Hammond-Beyer will make in June to a biotechnology education program and the 2008 Biotechnology Industry Organization's international convention in San Diego.

The convention is an annual highlight for the industry and brings together thousands of biotechnology companies. The state is keen to make a bigger splash in biotechnology, particularly with Atlanta playing host to that convention next year, Dr. Herndon-King said.

"Industry isn't just in Atlanta. Industry is all over the state," she said.

The state ranks seventh in terms of publicly traded biotechnology companies, Dr. Herndon-King said.

"We have the ability to do much better," she said.

Mr. Hammond-Beyer is expected to conduct some training for his fellow teachers when he returns, and he is eager to do more with his students in biotechnology, such as study DNA fragmentation and "some of the stuff that CSI does," he joked. Now is the time for education to step up to biotech, although Assistant Principal Tim Parker said the biotechnology curriculum could probably not begin until the 2009-10 school year.

"You can't sit on the sidelines too long and wait," Mr. Hammond-Beyer said. "You have to jump in the game. Our students have science aptitude. They just eat that stuff up."

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Biotechnology, also referred to as bioscience or life sciences, can offer students an opportunity to go into a variety of science- and biology-related careers. Most will require postsecondary training in a two- or four-year program. Students could find careers as a:

- Lab technician

- Clinical research associate

- Pharmacy technician

- Medical device technician, manufacturer or tester.

Many who start out on the technical side move on to customer service or marketing and sales, said Cinda Herndon-King, the director of education programs for Georgia Bio.