National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing’s BioFORCE alumni become biotech leaders

August 1, 2018
| By: Jenny Ligon

The National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing’s (NCTM) BioFORCE Summer Academy has just completed its seventh year, having served a grand total of 566 rising Texas high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, several dozen of whom have gone on to become Texas A&M University Aggies. But the 2018 camps were made much more special by having two BioFORCE graduates engage with this year’s participants in special ways.  

BioFORCE is a STEM summer program that provides a three-year series of opportunities for high school students to gain exposure to the biotechnology industry by learning from and working with industry leaders in state-of-the-art laboratories and pharmaceutical companies.  BioFORCE students learn how cutting-edge research and medical discoveries become new drugs and pharmaceutical treatments and discover their potential to become a scientist who creates a blockbuster, life-saving medicine or an engineer who manufacturers disease-eradicating vaccines. When away from these exciting, eye-opening experiences, students enjoyed simply making memories with their new, like-minded friends as they got to tour and explore the Texas A&M campus, eating breakfast and dinner at Sbisa Dining Hall, playing sports at the Student Recreation Center and hanging out in the game room at Hullabaloo Hall.

Logan Ardrey graduated from the BioFORCE summer academies in 2016 and is now a Texas A&M sophomore biology major and pre-med student. Ardrey served as a 2018 BioFORCE counselor. “I cannot stress how glad I am that I went to BioFORCE when I was in high school,” Ardrey said. “Campers get a chance to tour cutting-edge research laboratories and manufacturing facilities, get hands-on experience with experiments and current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) guidelines and meet other like-minded students from across the state. I have always been interested in science, but this summer academy really helped me to realize what I want to do later in life.”

This year’s camp began as they all have – buzzing with an air of anticipation and nervous excitement. But with curiosity in their eyes and with each session having no greater than 25 students, campers made connections in record time. Diving into lab work and interacting throughout each day, campers quickly took hold of the opportunities to bond with different individuals such that “hometown friends” and “camp friends” became difficult to distinguish.

Bioforce Lab StudentsStudents selected for BioFORCE academies are chosen as the most competitive among a large pool of applicants, specifically 1,005 to-date. Within only hours of camp sessions commencing, it was obvious that students were just as impressive in person as on paper. During the first day of BioFORCE I (upcoming sophomores), discussions of AP courses, choosing the right university, drafting perfect college applications and the atmosphere of college courses emerged. This ambitious and inquisitive nature of the rising sophomores bode well for them as they encountered experiences on the topic of the camp, “Today’s Medicine,” leading them to ask thoughtful, intelligent questions in laboratory experiments ranging from Pipetting & Bacterial Plating to Microscopy and Gram Staining to Green Fluorescent Protein Transformation and Bacterial Painting, as well as during tours of the Sacchettini Lab, the Texas A&M Institute for Genomics Medicine and the Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies.

BioFORCE II shifted the focus to “Tomorrow’s Medicine,” exposing students to lab experiments and concepts that are pertinent to advanced processes in biotechnology such as SDS PAGE, Western Blot, and Enzyme and ELISA labs, as well as tours of the Microscopy and Imaging Center and the world-renowned biotechnology company, Lonza Biologics, in Pearland, Texas.  Camper Rebecca Ramirez said, “I like going to the lab because I’ve never done any of that, never seen that equipment. I’ve learned about it in school, but I’ve never actually done it, so having that opportunity was really cool.”    

The summer academies concluded with a look into “My Future in Medicine” through BioFORCE III, in which seniors were able to role play “a day in the life” of a biotechnician during experiments such as Surface Monitoring Plating and Incubation, Restriction Digestion, Pouring and Running Gels, Cell Staining and Counting, and Gram Staining and ELISA. They also had the opportunity to picture themselves in a biotechnology career during tours with Asuragen and Bioo Scientific in Austin, Texas. 

During the tour of Asuragen, current intern and former BioFORCE academy graduate Mason Ouren said, “BioFORCE was very helpful in giving early exposure to the lab setting. In high school, it’s a challenge to get good experience and experiments in a class...it introduced that ‘cool factor’ and that awe, that spring boards into ‘maybe I want to pursue this more’…and that led me to want to do research in college. I’m a bio major now and work in a lab that studies plant genetics and that lab connected me to this internship which is 100 percent molecular genetics which is awesome and exactly what I was anticipating doing... [BioFORCE] was the gateway into learning and discovering ‘I really enjoy this and want to do this as a career.’”  

Bioforce Lab Students2Like Mason, campers of 2018 BioFORCE III shared similar thoughts.  Rising senior Ankita Rao stated, “I think the best part was going to actual companies because once you learn these skills, once you have that education, sometimes it’s easy to forget what you can actually do with all that and to see where you can possibly go with that kind of knowledge.  I think that was really important to see.” 

BioFORCE summer academies are formative, yet fun opportunities for high schoolers of all ages, experience levels and backgrounds. With a relaxed, encouraging and unifying environment, BioFORCE camps allowed high-caliber, busy high school students to have a break from the stresses of being the “perfect” college candidate so that they could make friends and memories with individuals they would not have met otherwise. In a short time, students were able to revolutionize their perspectives on science, biotechnology and medicine, and gain insight that will prove incredibly valuable as they choose their college majors and the career paths that best fits their personalities and passions.

 BioFORCE summer academies are primarily financed by grant funding from the Governor's Summer Merit Program (SMP), awarded by the Texas Workforce Commission.  The SMP sponsors summer youth camps that focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and inspires Texas youth to learn high demand STEM skills in fields that will position them for success in the industries of the future.

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