NCTM's fourth annual BioFORCE Academy continues to promote STEM education for Texas residents

August 8, 2016
| By: Aubrey Bloom

More than 120 Texas high school students across three age groups participated in this year’s BioFORCE Summer Academy hosted 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 course of the summer these students gained invaluable knowledge concerning the biotechnology industry through performing bacterial transformation and multiple quality assurance assays, as well as training on the very bioprocessing equipment used daily in pharmaceutical manufacturing. 

BioFORCE is a hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) summer merit program shaped by the NCTM that allows high school students to experience the rapidly evolving biotechnology industry. As the program progresses throughout the summer, rising sophomore, junior and senior high school students are immersed into curriculum geared toward pharmaceutical manufacturing and the cutting-edge research behind each new drug discovery. The curriculum set forth by the NCTM encourages students to develop critical thinking skills through the use of STEM principles. The objective of the BioFORCE Summer Academy is to encourage students to pursue an education in a major STEM discipline and ultimately a career in the biotech or pharmaceutical industries. 

A diverse pool of Texas students from as far south as Mercedes to as far north as Plano participated in this year’s offering of BioFORCE. Over the course of three weeklong offerings dedicated to each age group, students were able to experience all the facets of the biotech industry ranging from small-scale media production to large-scale therapeutics manufacturing. The BioFORCE Summer Academy takes an unprecedented hands-on approach and provides experiential learning through the use of the NCTM’s fully functional wet labs and mock GMP space. 

To supplement the hands-on curriculum delivery, BioFORCE participants were taken on tours of fully operational pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, biotech incubators for startup ventures and multiple research facilities geared toward the life science field. In essence, these tours provide a third dimension to the program that pulls together the many facets of the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. Exposure to facilities such as Lonza Houston, J&J Labs, the Texas Institute for Preclinical Studies (TIPS) and the Pandemic Influenza Facility (PIF) rounds out the education set forth by the program by allowing students to observe drug and therapeutic development from start to finish: from early research to full-scale manufacturing. 

While BioFORCE has successfully completed its fourth year, the program’s mission still remains unaltered. The intensive summer program 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. 

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. For more information, please visit https://nctm.tamu.edu/Training/BioFORCE/

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