26 students to test-drive potential career

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The Huntsville Times

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More than 300 students sought the 26 summer internships at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology BioTrain program.

For good reason. Not only can the interns make up to $14 an hour – double what many summer jobs pay – they get to spend two months test-driving a potential career in a fast-growing field.

The 26 interns, who range from high school sophomores to graduate-level college students, just completed a weeklong "Biotech Boot Camp" at HudsonAlpha to get them ready for their summer work.

"Most of them probably don’t fully understand how amazing this opportunity is," said Dr. Adam Hott, coordinator of educational outreach for the institute. "This is a great entry point to see what this world really looks like."

In their first week, HudsonAlpha K-12 education coordinator Jennifer Carden and BioTrain administrator Dr. Bob Zahorchak showed the interns lab basics, such as how to keep a notebook and handle a pipette. Then they moved on to other lessons that had a more biotech sound to them, such as dilution calculations,

pelleting bacterial cells, chemistry/biology interface and spectrophotometry.
"On Thursday, they had three or four experiments going at one time," Hott said. "It teaches them how to juggle, and that’s something you have to be able to do on a biotechnology job."

On Friday, the interns conducted experiments to check for genetically modified organisms in Cheetos, Oreos and other processed foods.

Some had them; some didn’t.

"Corn and soybeans can be modified to make them resistant to RoundUp" weed killer, Hott said. "The experiment is a practical application of what they’ve been learning to do in the lab."

With this intense week of training behind them, they’ll now tackle jobs at one of the 14 private companies housed in the nonprofit institute or in the institute’s education component.

Michele Morris, 42, just graduated from Calhoun Community College’s first two-year biotech program. She is the most experienced intern in the bunch, but she said she still has plenty to learn from this program.

"I may know more about how to work a pipette than the guy sitting next to me," said Morris, who plans to seek a master’s degree in biological science, "but he knows a lot more than I do about Excel spreadsheets."

Students from across the country applied for the internships, but Hott said those selected are from Alabama and the Tennessee Valley because funding is from a Department of Labor regional work-force grant.

HudsonAlpha, which opened last year, states its mission as using biotech to improve human health, stimulate economic development and inspire Alabama’s youth to seek careers in science.

By Patricia C. McCarter
Times Staff Writer