Molecular biologist ‘blown away’ by work of students
Scientist says volunteering in Rock Canyon’s biotechnology class was ‘one of the most rewarding things’ he has ever done
HIGHLANDS RANCH – Matt Bernstein, a molecular biologist and regional sales manager with Fisher Scientific, admits he had some preconceived ideas of today’s students when he was invited to visit the biotechnology class at Rock Canyon High School.
“I wanted the kids to pull up their pants, to get off their cell phones and to learn what the real world is like,” Bernstein recalled.
What he saw in that classroom, however, completely changed his entire perspective.
“My perception now is that there is a good chance that one day I will be working for one of these kids. That is the absolute truth,” Bernstein said with a laugh. “It is remarkable what these kids are doing. It is, by far, the highest level of science that I’ve ever seen in any high school. It is a lot different than I did when I was in high school science class, I can tell you that. It just blew me away.”
Every day, students in Shawndra Fordham’s Biotechnology 2 class, including Hannah Philip, are getting the chance to be real researchers. They have developed their own experiments, found funding and are conducting the research.
“She showed me how she was doing a project on Alzheimer’s Disease and a potential therapeutic,” Bernstein said. “My jaw was literally on the ground. I was absolutely shocked by it.”
He says that he has also been impressed by the students’ level of knowledge. On several occasions he has had in-depth conversations about complex biotech research.
“The students felt that a [proteomics] procedure would really help with their research and defend a theory they have with the data they are seeing, Bernstein explained. “I went in there and taught the kids how to do this Western Blotting procedure and the conversation we had was very identical with the conversations I have with my professional customers.”
When asked if he had the opportunity to do this kind of work as an undergraduate, Bernstein laughs.
“I wish I had a program like this [when I was a college student],” Bernstein said. “I would have still gone into science, but it would have better prepared me to know what it would be like.”
He says many students either have a limited view of science through a textbook or they believe it is the glamorized world portrayed by Hollywood. He says they have no idea what science is like day-in-and-day-out.
“It is completely glorified from CSI Miami, House MD and all of these shows. Everyone wants to go into that. What happens is they get into it and realize that it is not what they thought it was – it isn’t even close,” Bernstein said. “What this program does is that it gives the students an extremely realistic perspective.”
And that is exactly what happens. About 70% of Rock Canyon’s biotechnology students chose related fields of science.
“I’ll tell you what, Hannah knows exactly where she wants to go and a lot of the other student do too,” Bernstein said. “They know right now exactly what they want to do when they get out of college. That is one of the benefits of this program. They are getting that real life experience and application so they can make those decisions and decide -- do they really want to pursue science.”
By giving students access to cutting-edge technology and scientists in industry and local universities students are well prepared for college and can get a head start on a career.
Bernstein says it is these connections that are crucial for students and he encourages other professionals to find a way to support their local schools, in whatever area of study fits.
“I think there is a responsibility if you are in a successful position in your life to reciprocate that back,” Bernstein said.
Plus, it can help provide a better understanding of today’s youth – who will one day be our country’s future.
“I can’t overemphasize how blown away I was. I’ve spent my entire life in the scientific field and I was completely unaware of the level of activities that high school students are doing. They are amazing.”
LEARN MORE: The biotechnology program is within one of six Career and Technical Education clusters offered by the Douglas County School District. On February 7, there will be a presentation to the Board of Education on these CTE opportunities, as well as concurrent enrollment. Watch the livestream.