In the Teledyne Brown Training Lab at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, machines whir and buzz, the slight scent of chemicals waft through the air, and a high school student enters eager to learn.
As a sophomore, Salema Myler was part of the first cohort of the Launching Aspiring Biotechnology Students (LABS) program, a free afterschool program preparing tomorrow’s STEM workforce.
Salema traces her inspiration to pursue science to her 7th-grade science fair project. Her teacher stressed the scientific process and helped her to identify a problem, create a hypothesis and then finally research and test a solution. Salema produced a homemade stethoscope through trial and error and, finally, got the result she wanted.
During her freshman year of high school, Salema’s counselor recommended the LABS program as an opportunity to continue her pursuit of STEM experiences. It was a perfect fit since Salema had always thought about research and its application to the clinical side of science.
Established in 2014, LABS equips students from disadvantaged and underrepresented populations with the basic skills and knowledge that are essential in the STEM workforce. When selected, students participate in after-school, lab-based experiences that illustrate and reinforce key math and science concepts.
“We are starting to see the impact of the LABS program in the students that it serves,” said Dasi Price, student experiences lead at HudsonAlpha. “The feedback we have received from students that have moved into STEM career paths is encouraging because they are getting the foundation and experience necessary to thrive in a 21st-century workforce.”
Workforce development for the future
Toward the end of Salema’s time in the LABS afterschool program, an instructor told the students about an internship at HudsonAlpha. As part of an NSF grant for genomic research on crops, the project also includes a workforce development component. The Swaminthian Lab at HudsonAlpha offered an internship opportunity for a high school student to gain additional experience in the lab by working on agricultural genomics projects.
“Agriculture is so important to our world, and as the environment changes, we need to adjust to meet those needs,” said Kankshita Swaminathan, PhD, HudsonAlpha faculty investigator. “In order to meet those needs, we need a skilled workforce and HudsonAlpha is doing its part by engaging students like Salema.”
Salema, now a high school senior, spends about seven to ten hours a week, at HudsonAlpha working in the lab. Because of her experience in LABS, Selma now has the lab skills and background working in a professional setting. She has the proper lab techniques and is versed in constructing different parts of the gene.
The advice Salema would offer students thinking about furthering their STEM knowledge is to “go in with an open mind – don’t be closed off. Be open to learning new things, try things outside of your comfort zone,” Salema advises. “When I started the LABS program, I was not confident in my science capability, soft skills or lab skills. Through the program, I gained a new level of confidence.”
Visit the LABS program page for more information. The program is made possible through funding from The Boeing Company and BBVA Foundation.