First cohort of high school students graduate from NCTM’s intensive summer BioFORCE program

July 30, 2015
| By: Aubrey Bloom

Today, 18 Texas high school seniors will be the first-ever cohort to graduate BioFORCE, a STEM summer program provided by the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing (NCTM), a joint center of Texas A&M University and the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES). Over the last three summers, these students have performed bacterial transformation, toured world-class pharmaceutical companies and research labs across the state, and even trained on the same type of bioprocess equipment used to manufacture vaccines worldwide.

BioFORCE is a hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) summer program created by the NCTM that introduces high school students to the field of pharmaceutical manufacturing and the process of how cutting-edge research and medical discoveries become new drugs and therapeutics. Through a three-year series of increasingly advancing curriculum provided during the summers of their freshman, sophomore and junior years, BioFORCE prepares students for college programs in engineering and science, and ultimately, to pursue a career in the biotech or pharmaceutical industries. 

“Programs like BioFORCE gives us a chance to engage students and spark their interest in STEM fields in ways textbooks just can’t,” said John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “We hope these outstanding young people will carry that excitement into their college careers—and become the science and technology thought leaders of tomorrow.”

Students from around the state of Texas have participated in the program, including Elena Gehle from George Ranch High School in Richmond, Texas.“Attending BioFORCE last summer was an amazing experience. It was very interesting to meet people who are living ‘the dream’ of a science geek like me.  I believe that talking to these professionals and being able to experience what their professions are like gave us all the chance to really see who we could potentially become in the future, as well as motivate us to continue our hard work in school.”

Since its beginning in 2013, NCTM’s BioFORCE program has served more than 300 Texas high school students from as far away as El Paso, McAllen the Texas Panhandle and practically every community in between.  For the 2015 summer academies alone, which collectively provide only 150 available spots, NCTM had nearly 320 applicants during the competitive selection process.

“Some people didn’t believe I was capable of being accepted into the program the first time around, so being able to attend again will show I do genuinely care about my education, especially my passion for engineering and science,” said Enrique Ruiz from Lehman High School in Kyle, Texas. “This experience can help be a catalyst for my future.”

BioFORCE was designed to encourage traditionally underserved students to take on the challenges of a rigorous math and science curriculum, to pursue higher education in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields, and to enter the high-tech workforce. Grants received from the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) Summer Merit Program and financial contributions from corporate partner, Cognizant Technology Solutions, have allowed NCTM to offer scholarships to this target audience. 

“Through this program, we are able to inspire students to pursue a career in a high-demand, high-tech field,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “Students are given the unique opportunity to receive hands-on experience that will prepare them for future success.”  

“NCTM’s BioFORCE program has captured the spirit of Cognizant’s Making the Future STEM education initiative by providing a program of experiential learning where students learn by doing, solving real-world problems in a state-of -the-art laboratory,” said Kathryn Nash, associate director of educational affairs at Cognizant. “We are proud to partner with Texas A&M to provide opportunities that inspire our next generation of change makers.”

NCTM’s goal is to have 100 percent of its BioFORCE graduates enter a STEM-related higher education program upon their high school graduation. This will ensure a continued stream of younger generations to fill the pipeline of the pharmaceutical industry, including groundbreaking research to life-saving medical discoveries, therapeutics and treatments.   

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