- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

Biotechnology has the potential to cure disease, improve the environment and reduce famine by increasing crop yields. So why aren’t more American students learning about this cutting-edge science?

The Biotechnology Institute, an Arlington nonprofit, is targeting U.S. schools in an initiative to promote biotechnology education in the classroom.

“What we’re really interested in doing is trying to figure out how we can help states and school districts infuse biotechnology concepts into teaching,” said Scott May, the institute’s newly appointed vice president for systems and curriculum.

Mr. May, a former senior adviser for the Mathematics and Science Initiative at the Department of Education, cited two overarching goals of biotechnology education.

“One is work force readiness. We have some major issues in this country with biotech companies being unable to hire enough skilled workers, so it’s really important we help school systems prepare students to enter into these kinds of careers,” Mr. May said.

In China, 60 percent of college graduates have science degrees, compared with 30 percent of U.S. graduates, he said.

The other goal is “basic biotech literacy for all students. It’s really important that everybody have a basic level of biotechnology concepts so that they’re able to make better decisions in their lives,” he said.

The organization was founded in 1998 to promote biotechnology education through student mentorship programs, teacher development, research competitions and an annual conference.

“By working with leading school systems around the nation who want to include biotechnology in their curriculum, we can have an impact on an even larger scale,” President Paul Hanle said.

The amount of biotechnology education in school systems varies, Mr. May said, largely depending on the efforts of individual teachers. However, many states have embraced national education standards that include elements of biotechnology, such as life science or molecular biology.

“But then there are a lot more areas where you can use biotechnology ideas as a context within which to teach core science. You could do an experiment or give an illustration of something in biotechnology, and as a result, it helps kids understand a fundamental science idea that by itself isn’t a fundamental biotechnology idea,” he said.

The organization plans to partner with state and local school systems across the country in the next year to pilot the initiative.

“You can help the administrators and teachers look carefully at what sciences they’re already requiring the teachers to teach and highlight and find the biotechnology ideas,” Mr. May said.

In addition, the organization can help improve teachers’ knowledge of biotech concepts, bring in resources for experiments in the classroom and help teachers assess student learning, he said.

“I think it has the possibility of bettering the lives of lots of children and, in turn, adults,” Mr. May said.

Mr. May, 44, lives in Falls Church with his wife and two children.

— Kara Rowland

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