Gwinnett Tech offers classes for teachers in new technology

LAWRENCEVILLE - With the biotechnology industry experiencing a nationwide boom, Gwinnett Technical College wants to make sure Georgia is a part of the action.

The first step to accomplishing that: educate the educators.

Gwinnett Tech is hosting the 2007 Summer Biotechnology Academy this week to demonstrate activities and labs that can be used by the state's high school science teachers.

Gwinnett Tech and Athens Technical College both received a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor's Community-Based Job Training Initiative to help increase the number of trained people in the biotechnology industry.

Biotechnology is the use of cellular and biomolecular processes to solve problems or make useful products. Bioscience professionals work with doctors, patients and pharmaceutical companies to administer treatments, monitor patient responses, identify adverse reactions and collect and deliver clinical data to research agencies.

"The main thing we're trying to do is be proactive in developing a bioscience work force pipeline in our state," said Robert E. Powers, program director for biosciences at Gwinnett Tech.

For its first Biotechnology Academy, which started Tuesday and will run through today, Gwinnett Tech had roughly 25 teachers from across Georgia in attendance. Teachers received e-mails offering the chance to be a part of the seminar and several local teachers were excited to be a part of the seminars.

"It's a great opportunity to teach our students practical things that they can get jobs in," said Teri Schneider, a teacher at Peachtree Ridge High School.

Jennifer Burton, a teacher at Central Gwinnett High School, said she thinks the hands-on instruction has been helpful and could encourage more teachers to do these kind of activities with their students.

"A lot of teachers shy away from these activities because they've never done it themselves," Burton said. "A lot aren't comfortable with it and don't do it."

And a lot don't do it because they lack the expensive biotechnology equipment they need. Gwinnett Tech will try to solve that problem by loaning out equipment and supplies to teachers to use in their classrooms.

Gwinnett Tech sees all this as necessary steps to bringing biotechnology companies into the area.

Powers said two pharmaceutical companies, Novartis and Merck, had at one point looked into bringing plants to the Ga. Highway 316 corridor. Both backed out and took their businesses to North Carolina instead because of a lack of potential employees trained in biotechnology.

"It's not like a car plant," Powers said. "Employees have to have some basic technical training with the FDA guidelines being so strict. You can't just pick people up off the street, so it makes it important to have trained people for these jobs."