Siya Sharma in the lab

Research shows that only 35% of high schools in the United States offer biotechnology courses as part of their curricula. As an integrated science, biotech programs expose students to a variety of career opportunities in science and medicine. Students learn biology, chemistry, math and physics through biotech, preparing them for success in courses such as AP Biology and AP Chemistry. Some programs even embed biotech professionals in classrooms so that students can experience real-world applications of what they are learning in the classroom.

A biotech curriculum provides the skills and experiences they need to be successful in long-term, well-paid careers. While many high school science classes focus on lab-based activities, many do not cover the full-product development life cycle in biotech, which can prevent students from understanding and experiencing what a career in the biotech industry could mean for their future.

The Birth of the Academy of Biotechnology

Between 1992 and 2002, the Montgomery County (Md.) Public School system conducted a study to follow several thousand students into their careers and higher education to determine how many of the students followed through on their career goals. They found that a majority of students who pursued their goals were students who had had previous exposure to or experience in the field they chose. As a result, they created Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Academy programs throughout the county to provide those opportunities to students based on the career ecosystem in the communities around each school. Because of its location, Northwest High School (NWHS) in Germantown, Md., became the host of the Academy of Biotechnology.

The program was launched in 2004 with a proposal prepared by Northwest High School, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and other partners. Current Program Director Avi Silber works with the students and leads the program at NWHS, which has 132 students. The idea to offer a career fair for the students came in the spring of 2019 and the first fair took place in the fall of that year. Now in its fourth year, the career fair has been successful in educating the students further not only the careers available in biotech, but also learning about internships on site at the fair.

After the first career fair, Silber recalls a student walking away saying, “I don’t know which internship to choose.” During the pandemic, NWHS held a virtual career fair and returned to in-person in 2022. “While it is a lot of work to set up, it is so valuable for the students and continues to grow each year,” Silber said. “It helps the [student] officers—whose job it is to reach out to many of the organizations—develop the communication skills to navigate websites, operators, etc. and talk with stakeholders to participate in the event,” he added.

The Academy of Biotechnology is a prestigious program offered at NWHS for students who are interested in biology and STEM fields. The program also gives students an opportunity for leadership positions. The Pharmacologist caught up with two students in the program, including the president of the program, Siya Sharma.

Siya Sharma, Northwest High School Class of 2024
Siya Sharma, Northwest High School Class of 2024

Meet Siya Sharma, Class of 2024

When did you know you wanted to pursue science and/or pharmacology? How did you get involved in this area?

Growing up, I always enjoyed and cherished the privilege to learn, however even at a young age, no subject interested me the way science had. Immune responses, emotional regulation systems, physiology, parts of a cell and stoichiometry have captivated me in the pursuit of learning, defining my passions and identity along the way. Throughout high school, I took several rigorous science courses, and became heavily involved with my school’s Academy of Biotechnology. Through this program, I took science courses that included graduate level labs, internship opportunities, leadership opportunities, rigor and an opportunity to take the Biotechnician Assistant Credentialing exam. Needless to say, I have gained plenty of exposure to the field of science and have come to thoroughly enjoy it. From being a ‘pleasure to have in class’ to taking rigorous coursework to having a full to-do list, I have fallen in love with learning science. Dedicating hours of my day to studying in a library, my life’s purpose is to absorb knowledge and use it to enact positive change.

What has inspired you the most to pursue a career in science and/or pharmacology?

My initial interest in science stems from learning disabilities. I was very close to many people with learning disabilities and neurological disorders in my youth, that I was never able to comprehend. As someone who needs to understand why things work the way they work, I found myself constantly pondering neurological disabilities and disorders. However, as I grew older, maturity brought an awareness of what neurological disabilities entail, sparking my interest in neuroscience. The moment I realized how hard the brain and organ systems work to regulate bodily functions; I began to work equally hard to heal the human body in my future. Along the way, I have found other parts of science and medicine that have sparked my interest further as well.

What are your goals for college and beyond?

After high school, I look forward to attending a four year university to major in neuroscience and minor in public health. After my undergraduate years, I am hoping to earn a medical degree, and potentially a master’s degree in public health. Along the way, I imagine that I will conduct at least one major research project and become part of medical and scientific communities.

Where do you see yourself in five years, 10 years?

Five years from now, I envision myself attending a medical school or taking the necessary steps to prepare for my medical school degree. I look forward to completing my residency and being a step away from being a practicing physician 10 years from now.

What do you want your greatest accomplishment(s) to be?

I look forward to making an impact with the education and passion I have for medicine, health equity and neuroscience. Whether that be to cure the incurable, push and campaign for easier access to healthcare or publish my research, I want to leave an impact on the fields of science, medicine and neurology/neuroscience.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a 2015 resolution to make February 11 an annual recognition of International Day of Women and Girls in Science in the United States. Now in its ninth year, it has become a special time to celebrate and recognize the significant achievements women and girls in science are doing to advance Biotechnology and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers. It is also an opportunity to put the focus on the importance of equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. The biotech and STEM fields are among the fastest-growing segments of jobs for women in the United States, and the global community is inspiring women and girls in science to succeed. ASPET recognizes NWHS Academy of Biotechnology President Siya Sharma as an outstanding student who is making great strides to achieve her goals to secure a career in biotech/STEM.

Justice Cadet, Northwest High School Class of 2025
Justice Cadet, Northwest High School Class of 2025

Meet Justice Cadet, Class of 2025

When did you know you wanted to pursue science and/or pharmacology? How did you get involved in this area?

I was about 10 to 12 years old when I was sure that a career in sciences was what I wanted to do. One of the major ways that I got involved in pharmacology is in my molecular biotechnology class this year. We were able to meet people from Millipore Sigma and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and they were able to take us through the process of clinical trials.

What has inspired you the most to pursue a career in science and/or pharmacology?

What first sparked my interest in pharmacology was overhearing my mother and my grandmother talking about the medication that they take. Hearing them say how much they relied on them and how many they needed to take to sustain their health made me wonder how it worked and how I could be a part of it.

What are your goals for college and beyond?

In college, I plan to major in biology or biochemistry on a pre-med track and eventually, get a career as a cardiologist
or radiologist.

Where do you see yourself in five years, 10 years?

In five years, I see myself finishing my bachelor’s in biology or biochemistry, and in 10 years I will hopefully, be finishing out medical school or starting out on my residency.

What do you want your greatest accomplishment(s) to be?

I want my greatest accomplishment to be a breakthrough in the way that drugs are produced, making them cheaper and easier to move from pre-clinical trials to clinical trials.

ASPET members Khalid Garman, PhD, and Greg Grumbar, PhD, represented the Society at NWHS Academy of Biotechnology’s Fourth Biotechnology and Health Career and Internship Fair and shared their insight about the various careers in pharmacology and therapeutics.
ASPET members Khalid Garman, PhD, and Greg Grumbar, PhD, represented the Society at NWHS Academy of Biotechnology’s Fourth Biotechnology and Health Career and Internship Fair and shared their insight about the various careers in pharmacology and therapeutics.

Biotech Career and Internship Fair

NWHS Academy of Biotechnology’s Fourth Biotechnology and Health Career and Internship Fair took place December 6, 2023, from 6:30–9:00 p.m., at Northwest High School. A total of 22 organizations participated in the fair to share information about what they do and how they can work with high school students to help them begin their journeys in the biology and STEM fields. Students had the opportunity to visit tables and speak to representatives about internships and learn more about them. The academy is a resource created to give experiences and exposure to the future of science.

The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) was among the organizations that participated. ASPET members Khalid Garman, PhD, and Greg Grumbar, PhD, represented the Society and shared their insight about the various careers |in pharmacology and therapeutics. Garman and Grumbar are currently working at the National Institutes of Health and have served ASPET in several capacities. ASPET accepted the invitation to participate to share its mission and vision and encourage students to consider a career in pharmacology.

The fair is designed to provide an interface between biotechnology and health organizations among the students and in the community. In addition, it allows organizations to showcase their opportunities for students. Ideally, students who attend the fair can learn how they can prepare themselves for a career in the field and what companies are looking for in potential employees.

The event included a panel introduction and discussion followed by a Q&A for students to interact with the panelists. The panelists included: Volunteer Services Manager Sarah Walker with Holy Cross Health, Inc., Biotechnology Professor Lori Kelman with MC Biotech, Employee Engagement Specialist Odalys Hernandez-Pequeno with Millipore Sigma, Laboratory Supervisor Elvira Besong with Millipore Sigma, Founder and CEO Jeffrey Hung, PhD, of DiscerNMR and Professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Feng Chen. Each of them offered insight into their academic programs, learning experiences, apprenticeships, year-round internships, summer internships and jobs. With a doctorate degree in Molecular Pharmacology and Structural Biology, Aubrey Watkins III, PhD, served as the panelist host and engaged the students through the discussion. After the panel discussion, students resumed their visits with organizations around the room. Many walked away with contact names and numbers, opportunities for internships and connections that could last a career.

Author

  • Lynne Harris, MA, APR

    Lynne Harris, MA, APR, is ASPET’s Director of Marketing and Communications and Executive Editor of The Pharmacologist. She has more than 15 years of experience as a senior-level executive leading communications strategy and 10 years as a journalist. She holds a master’s degree in strategic public communications, Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) through Public Relations Society of America and a certificate in Integrated Communications.