On Friday, January 27, the Edwards Campus of the University of Kansas hosted hundreds of students from more than 15 schools for its annual Biotech Day.
Faculty and students shared information about the unique opportunities offered by the satellite campus, focusing on two-year biotechnology and applied biology degree programs open to individuals with associate degrees or equal credits. Dr. Jack Treml, assistant biotechnology program director at Edwards, said he hopes Biotech Day will help excite and inform students about career paths that have not previously been considered.
“I think a lot of people go into biology and think ‘health care,’ and that’s been an ancillary part of how I look at biology. I think of it as indirect healthcare. We learn how to make the tools that are then used in a healthcare setting,” Treml said. “I really hope to get students excited about these kinds of career paths and, as I said earlier, make them aware of our program.”
Juliann Solomon, an Olathe elder, is currently enrolled in the biotechnology program. Solomon said she benefited from the small campus environment and inherent emphasis on one-on-one learning that the Edwards campus offers.
“I loved this show. I’ve always been a very hands-on learner,” Solomon said. “This program is very hands-on, so I’ve found it easy to thrive [here].”
Seniors in the biotechnology program presented their capstone research projects, and students were then able to enroll as volunteers in the research labs that interested them most. One of the speakers, Ana Hernandez, a Lenexa senior, said that one of the goals of the presentations was to stimulate students’ interest in research experiences.
“We want more students to enter the program and be more involved in lab work,” Hernandez said. “[For] any student interested in science, I think this is, like, a great place to come in and learn all about lab work, concepts. It really is a great place to apply all your knowledge.
This year’s event focused on the intersections of biotechnology with the intelligence community. Students were able to hear from Dr. Michael Patterson, a program manager for the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, a federal agency that researches science and technology as topics relate to national security. Dr. Patterson has an extensive history in multiple areas of biology including virology and bioinformatics. His lecture introduced students to multiple internships and programs within the biosafety realm and was followed by a question and answer session.
Students submitted answers to a scientific puzzle before the event, and the winners were announced at the end of the day. The Edwards faculty evaluated the submissions on both clarity and accuracy, having tasked contestants with decoding strings of genetic information. Ben Parrack, a senior at Blue Valley High School, took first place, receiving a $300 scholarship.
“There was a pretty sizable package full of background information about the history of biology regarding DNA sequencing and some of the bioethics surrounding it,” Parrack said. “The objective of the competition was to identify, as quickly as possible, in the DNA sequence provided different proteins or amino acid sequences that we could use to develop a vaccine based on the description of the disease that had been provided to us. “
Anjali Hocker Sing, a junior from Olathe North, finished second and received a $200 scholarship.
This year’s Biotech Day marked its first return to in-person attendance since the pandemic. Treml reflected on the development leading up to the current iteration of the event and its impact on the community.
“We started about five or six years ago. Initially, it was just about getting the kids involved, and when we first did it, we just showed a film and had a panel discussion after the film about biology,” Treml said. “Since that beginning, we have really professionalized the way we handle it… [we’ve] turned this into a full day and we integrated the idea of involving high schoolers into the research that happens here.