OVERLAND PARK – KU is expanding its role in filling Greater Kansas City’s need for biotechnology talent and local students’ interest in the field. The KU Edwards Campus (KUEC) in Overland Park launched the university’s undergraduate biotechnology program less than two years ago, is celebrating the opening of a new biotechnology laboratory this spring and engages local professionals and high school students in interactive events.
The KUEC program prepares students for a range of biotechnology careers. The Kansas City Area Development Council reports the sector features more than 245 companies, employs 28,000 workers and generates an estimated $1.8 billion annually in the metro area.
The new biotechnology lab, which can accommodate 26 students per class, gives students unmatched opportunity for hands-on experience as they work toward their degree.
“KU Edwards Campus is increasing its engagement with the biotechnology field in Kansas City,” said David Cook, vice chancellor at KUEC. “The biotechnology program and its new lab help us create opportunities for students to further their education and career in the industry. In turn, the industry is getting a fresh source of well-trained grads, ready to go to work.”
Randy Logan, director of the biotechnology program, said the lab was designed specifically for dual use as a classroom and a laboratory while providing additional space for students to conduct their experimental work.
The new facility will be particularly useful to senior-level students who run and manage a yearlong research project as a final requirement before earning a degree.
“These research projects help expose students to real-world challenges that provide translatable skills for those entering graduate school or jobs in the industry," Logan said.
Built with improved student-to-teacher sight lines and modern educational amenities, the new space is “a nice, sizable, really well-appointed lab," said Jack Treml, assistant director of the program. "We designed our curriculum to be lab-focused.”
The lab’s opening comes as program leaders reach out to area high school students through a series of hands-on events designed to highlight exciting careers in biotechnology.
In October, students from Olathe’s Medical Professions Academy visited KUEC to perform immunology, microscopy and fluorescence-based experiments. The 32 high school students engaged in activities ranging from analyzing their own blood to learning how scientists used fluorescence to make important discoveries in cellular biology.
The campus hosted its first-ever KU Edwards Campus Biotechnology Day in November. Students from Olathe Public Schools 21st Century Academy, Blue Valley CAPS, Summit Technology Academy and Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools participated in a research-driven “flash” science fair and attended speaker panels. The winners of the science fair start an internship with Treml and his students beginning in the summer semester.
"It's important that scientists in higher education communicate with the students in K-12,” Logan said. “One of the things we see, over and over again, is that students are interested in science but have a very limited understanding of possible science careers. They typically view medical school as the primary path."
Early exposure to a broad range of biotechnology careers can help those young students more effectively plan their futures, he said.
"It is important for them to realize that scientists contribute to society in a very significant way,” Logan said. "We're just trying to help them become aware of other career options."
KU’s Office of Innovation & Collaboration is offering a Biotech Startup School for “aspiring faculty, staff and student entrepreneurs and early-stage ventures based on KU technology,” which started Jan. 8 at KUEC. The six-week series involves lectures, networking and discussion for participants, all aimed at helping them jump-start new Kansas City companies with a science foundation.
The KUEC biotechnology program, supported by the Johnson County Education Research Triangle, continues to see increasing enrollment. To learn more about the program or to apply, visit edwardscampus.ku.edu/biotechnology.
Photos: At top, the KU Edwards Campus is opening a new biotechnology laboratory for additional research opportunities. At right, Jack Treml, assistant director of the Edwards Campus biotechnology program, works with students as part of educational outreach efforts in the Greater Kansas City area. Credit: KU Edwards Campus.