Biotechnology Training Centre Outreach

2004 Winner: Excellence In Science And Technology Public Awareness

Inspiring Science And Technology Throughout The Community

Dr. Wendy Hutchins’ enthusiasm for science and technology is so infectious; hundreds of students have caught the “science bug” from exposure to the outreach projects she runs as director of the University of Calgary’s Biotechnology Training Centre (BTC). She has also re-energized countless high school science teachers who return to their classrooms from BTC workshops to share their newfound skills and enthusiasm.

Expanding the Centre

The Faculty of Medicine established the BTC in 2000 to support a new Masters in Biomedical Technology program and hired Dr. Hutchins, an adjunct assistant professor in the faculty, as the centre’s director. She has since grown the centre well beyond its original mandate, setting up a series of training workshops for faculty staff and an incubator to help students launch small start-up companies. Dr. Hutchins has also built a vigorous science awareness and outreach program.

The BTC introduces high school students to biotechnology through a variety of workshops, including a “WhoDunnit” DNA forensics module capitalizing on the hit TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. These workshops, which include talks by researchers and hands-on lab experience, are so popular that more than 24 high school teachers and over 1,200 students participated last year. Dr. Hutchins also helps teachers find mentors for International Baccalaureate science students.

Practical Experience

The BTC supports the Heritage Youth Researcher Summer (HYRS) program, sponsored by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR), which places Grade 11 summer students into biomedical laboratories for real world research experience. Dr. Hutchins began by presenting a one-day workshop for HYRS students and their teachers in 2002. The teachers were so inspired; AHFMR launched a Heritage Science Teacher Workshop program for Calgary and region, which is now in its third year.

Inspiring Students

Dr. Hutchins helped set up a Calgary chapter of the national “Let’s Talk Science” (LTS) outreach program, which teams up graduate students with high school science teachers to help make science exciting and relevant for students. Within two years, the Calgary chapter has become one of the largest and most active chapters in Canada. The LTS team participates in local science fairs and in the SHAD Valley technology and entrepreneurship project for youth. The team is also experimenting with “upreach” programs designed for adults in the community who want to know more about biotechnology.

Through all these efforts, Dr. Hutchins and the BTC are raising awareness of the importance of science and technology in the community, and introducing biotechnology as an attractive career path for thousands of high school students.