The students in Crystal Payton-Demry’s classes at Kinston High School were handling copies Tuesday, but their task had nothing to do with clerical work. Rather, they and visiting educator Bethany Kenyon were exploring skills that a biomedical technical or an immunologist or a research scientist would put to use.
The students put them to use analyzing copies of DNA segments.
“Most students think there are only nurses and doctors in the medical field, but you do have a lot of careers that involve working in a lab, like zoology or animal science,” said Payton-Demry, who hosted Kenyon during two Biomedical Technology I classes. “This opens up another avenue of health care. Hopefully, this will engage them so they will at least explore some sort of laboratory type of career.”
Engaging the students was not difficult, since Kenyon not only brought with her some cool lab equipment and an easy way of imparting what she knows but also brought an interesting scenario – A PIGuliar Investigation.
In the activity, students were introduced to a swine influenza outbreak and performed electrophoresis of simulated PCR samples in an effort to develop a rapid testing methodology to cull the potential epidemic.
PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, is a technique used in molecular biology to amplify a single copy or a few copies of a segment of DNA. Electrophoresis is a laboratory technique used to separate molecules based on their size.
“I go into schools and bring the equipment and do a lab with them so they can experience using the equipment and get excited about it,” said Kenyon, a former chemistry and forensics teacher now working for Bionetwork. A subset of the state’s community college system, Bionetwork partners with industry in training in biotechnology fields and visits classrooms like Payton-Demry’s “to get students interested in biotechnology and aware of the careers out there they can do.”
This is the second consecutive year Payton-Demry has invited a Bionetwork representative into her classes. “I wanted to bring them in and give the students the opportunity to have a live, hands-on web lab,” she said.
Hands-on is at the heart of LCPS’s Career and Technical Education program, which includes health science classes at Kinston High and other high schools in the district.
“The skills we practiced together are those used by a biomedical technician,” said Kenyon, who told the students that particular lab job requires an associate degree and has a starting pay of $40,000 a year. “There are also careers in medicine, in research, in the pharmaceutical industry, in the agricultural field, in forensics – all different careers that relate to what they’re learning today.”