24 minutes | Apr 22, 2023
Season 3 Episode 2: Meet BioBuilder Rachael Smyers
Rachael Smyers was part of the 2019 BioBuilder High School Apprenticeship Challenge that was held at LabCentral. The program’s “learning by doing” approach attracted her to it, especially since she got what she felt was a late start in the Vocational Technical Program at Medford High School. Starting there in her junior year, she spent mornings taking 3 or 4 traditional high school classes (English, History…) and the afternoons in Biotech Shop, learning lab skills like pipetting, prepping buffers, running gels, and culturing mouse cells. In this interview Rachael talks about how the BioBuilder Apprenticeship program let her connect with students she would not have otherwise met, helped her practice technical skills, and taught her more about the science behind laboratory techniques. The program let her, “see the science world outside of the classroom while still inside the classroom.” The Apprenticeship program led directly to a summer internship with one of BioBuilder’s industry partners, Indigo Ag, and thanks to a successful summer there, Rachael continued as year 'round employee, working on agricultural biotechnology through her two years at Bunker Hill Community College and her Junior year at University of Massachusetts – Lowell.
22 minutes | Feb 26, 2023
Season 3 Episode 1: Meet BioBuilder Lyle Musesengwa
Lyle Musesengwa is a high school sophomore at Dobyns-Bennet HS, a rural school in Kingsport, TN, near the Appalachian Mountains. His school has strong STEM offerings, including the MATE Underwater Robotics competition, as well as nationally recognized Marching Band program. Lyle was born in Cape Town, South Africa and came to the US as a 4 year old. In this podcast Lyle notes that he can’t remember a time he wasn’t asking questions. His interest in synthetic biology began in 5th grade – even though he didn’t know that’s what it was called, when he learned about how animals adapt to their environment and wondered how to increase the efficiency of that process. His teacher pointed that techniques exist to change the biology of systems, and he know it was something he wanted to pursue. Introduced to BioBuilder when it was added to biology curriculum in 9th grade, Lyle was especially taken with the BioBuilder Idea Accelerator. The program has an impact for at least two reasons. First is because it was the first time he got to choose an issue to study based on what mattered to him – in his case he chose climate change and tried to design an organism that can reduce greenhouse gases. He and his team are still working on this project a year later, presenting their project idea at Bioeconomy Symposium at ETSU in October 2022 to local business and entrepreneurs and got feedback. The second impact he sees from BioBuilder is how the program made him realize that when he is working inside in a laboratory, it is to solve a problem that exists outside the lab in the world. To further this interest of his, he has sent a “strongly worded email” to his school principals, lobbying them to bring a BioBuilderClub to Dobyns-Bennett High School. They are working on starting for next year.
24 minutes | Dec 25, 2022
Season 2 Episode 12: Meet BioBuilder Jacob Lei
Jacob Lei was a rising Junior in High School when he participated in one of BioBuilder's online programs in the summer of 2020, waking up at 5AM Pacific time to participate synchronously three times a week for a month. BioBuilder’s online program introduced Jacob to the idea that biology and engineering could be combined to help people, using genetic parts that could be reconnected to address global issues. His biodesign team focused on medical treatments with a design that addressed insulin regulation in Type I diabetes, incorporating a model for insulin fluctuations in R. Jacob furthered his interest in synthetic biology through a program at UCSD the following summer -- taught by Carlos Vera (an amazing BioBuilder teacher himself!). And now Jacob attends Rice University in Texas where he is studying bioengineering, and will be joining Jeff Tabor's lab to carry out an undergraduate research project, working on novel two component signaling pathways. He is also sharing his excitement for science through a local outreach program called Kids Are Scientists Too, in which Jacob spends time doing fun science demonstrations with young students near Rice University.
22 minutes | Nov 30, 2022
Season 2 Episode 11: Meet BioBuilder Presley Simelus
In this interview, Presley notes how they haven’t seen a single program or organization that is similar to BioBuilder. Presley would know, given the range of programs that they have engaged in. Presley is currently an 11th grade student at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School in Cambridge, MA. The first BioBuilder experience for Presley came as an 8th grader through an exploratory program BioBuilder ran in the Learning Lab @ LabCentral. After a 9th grade “zoom only” year that included a virtual biology class, Presley joined BioBuilder’s High School Apprenticeship Challenge as a 10th grader. This was the program that gave them lots of hands-on lab training and reinforced their interest in molecular biology. Their Apprenticeship biodesign project was an at-home HIV test. Though Presley came into the Apprenticeship thinking they would pursue a political science in college, the BioBuilder experience shifted their ambitions to study biochemistry in college. Their experience as an Apprentice has led to additional professional experiences during high school, notably a three week summer internship at Tufts Medical Center in a research lab studying cholera. This year, Presley kicked off the all-new BioBuilder Student Ambassador program, presenting BioBuilder’s opportunities to other students at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School and recording a lab training video for this year’s BioBuilderClub teams.
31 minutes | Oct 31, 2022
Season 2 Episode 10: Meet BioBuilder Jo-Anne Purdy
Jo has been a biology teacher for 26 years and a BioBuilder from the very start, having attended the very first Professional Development workshop at MIT in 2011. Since then, she has integrated BioBuilder into her classroom (Newton North and Westborough High Schools in MA), supporting a BioBuilderClub that was led by Viggy (Season 1 Episode 6), and leading teacher professional development workshops. In this conversation she digs into what it takes to run BioBuilder labs and programs, as well as how evolution of the field has made the content easier to teach and more relevant to everyone. Over the past decade, she has found that teaching BioBuilder to students and teachers has gotten easier thanks to the success of the field. She regularly teaches how synthetic biology enables the production of Vanillin from yeast rather than plants and how Ginkgo Bioworks can resurrect the scent of an extinct flower. These examples, as well as how students rely on "their best friends: Google, Siri, and Alexa," have made teaching BioBuilder easier and easier. She also recalls how the first BioBuilder workshop required 5 days of in person learning, and how it transitioned to 3 days of in person learning, and how now - post COVID - BioBuilder teachers are trained in a hybrid model of synchronous and asynchronous learning to reach educators everywhere. The very last minute of the interview includes Jo's heartfelt description of the impact BioBuilder has had on her own career.
27 minutes | Sep 26, 2022
Season 2 Episode 9: Meet BioBuilder Veni Dole
Veni Dole is currently studying Chemical Engineering at Columbia University, but as a high school student she participated in BioBuilder's BioBuilderClub at Andover High School. The team project she worked on addressed plastic bottles that pollute the ocean. Their design used salt as a trigger for bacterial production of pETase, allowing microbes under the bottle's label to dissolve the plastic. The work not led her to research what has become a hot topic in biotechnology but also to speak with many leaders in the field, who offered ideas and reagents in support of the project. The BioBuilderClub idea was entered in the CleanTech competition, where it made the list of finalists, and was published in BioTreks, a peer-reviewed journal for high school synthetic biologists. Veni credits BioBuilder for introducing her to synthetic biology, for the helpful framework that enabled her imagined solution to take shape, and for stimulating her interest in entrepreneurship. Though high school is already a few years in the rear view mirror, Veni vividly remembers presenting her team's project to the startup companies at LabCentral in Cambridge, MA as part of the BioBuilderClub Final Assembly.
18 minutes | Sep 5, 2022
Season 2 Episode 8: Meet BioBuilder Geneva Fischer
Geneva Fischer, a rising sophomore at Northeastern University in Boston, has been part of the BioBuilder community since high school. As part of her work in the biotechnology program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, she saw her classmates participate in the BioBuilderClub, joined an intensive workshop at the BioBuilder Learning Lab @LabCentral, and participated in the online Idea Accelerator during the COVID shut-down of in person classes. Most recently she has worked as an intern in the BioBuilder Learning Lab @Ginkgo where she researched the strain instability of a biomanufacturing strain, improved the teaching protocols, and supported the wide array of students who came to the lab as workshop participants. She credits BioBuilder for advancing her skills and interests, putting her at ease in many advanced settings like college labs and lab-based teaching of others.
34 minutes | Jul 31, 2022
Season 2 Episode 7: Meet BioBuilder Dave Westenberg
Dave Westenberg, a Professor of Biological Sciences at Missouri University of Science & Technology, is widely known as a wonderful microbiologist, a great communicator and an exceptionally dedicated teacher. His students, be they undergraduates, high school teachers or public audiences, invariably feel empowered as scientists because Dave makes room for student curiosity, collaboration, and learning from mistakes. Dave attended one of BioBuilder's earliest professional development workshops and immediately saw how the curriculum could create the kind of educational experiences he wanted for his students. His enthusiasm led him to attended BioBuilder's advanced training program. He has gone on to teach professional development workshops including some in NYC @ Rockefeller with Lindsey L'Ecuyer. He regularly leads workshops in pedagogy and synthetic biology through M S&T and through the American Society for Microbiology.
34 minutes | Jun 29, 2022
Season 2 Episode 6: Meet Rebekah Ravgiala
Rebekah Ravgiala is an award-winning biotechnology teacher at Tyngsborough High School in Massachusetts. She attended the first BioBuilder teacher professional workshop at MIT in 2011 and was hooked. Her excitement about synthetic biology motivated her to lead her school's iGEM/BioBuilderClub teams year after year. In 2012, Rebekah registered and trained as an advanced BioBuilder instructor, learning how to teach other teachers the BioBuilder curriculum. Since then she has co-taught summer workshops for teachers in Cambridge, Mexico, and online. She serves on the BioBuilder Board of Directors, leading the pivot to online programs during the 2020 and 2021 pandemic shutdown and supporting new BioBuilder teachers after their professional development experiences.In this podcast, Rebekah shares her BioBuilder experiences and how "biotech with a purpose" helped her get unstuck as a teacher, bringing ambitious new educational goals in reach. She also describes how the BioBuilderClub supported her students through the challenging year of online learning.
15 minutes | May 31, 2022
Season 2 Episode 5: Meet Oscar Jimenez
Oscar is a rising junior at University of Massachusetts at Lowell, studying biology. His interest in biotechnology was sparked by a high school class and teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. He applied and was accepted to BioBuilder's High School Apprenticeship Challenge in 2019, held that year at LabCentral in Cambridge. His biodesign project addressed high concentrations of lead in drinking water. At the poster session presentation of his project, Oscar met a researcher at Indigo Ag, a biotech company that uses microbiology and machine learning to improve crop yield and health. Oscar was hired at Indigo Ag as a summer intern. Oscar remarked on how his BioBuilder lab skills helped him in the Indigo Ag lab as an intern and at college as a biology major.
19 minutes | Apr 30, 2022
Season 2 Episode 4: Meet Nancy Otaluka
Nancy is currently a Clinical Research Assistant at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She was one of the first BioBuilder Apprentices, a workforce readiness program for Boston-area students in under-resourced local high schools. In 2021 she graduated from the University of Massachusetts -Dartmouth, where she majored in Psychology and minored in Biochemistry. In 2022, she has returned to the BioBuilder Apprenticeship program as a teaching assistant, helping today's high schoolers with professional and laboratory skills.
22 minutes | Mar 27, 2022
Season 2 Episode 3: Meet Chris Kuffner
Chris Kuffner has been a longtime BioBuilder -- starting in high school at Acton-Boxborough High School in Massachusetts almost a decade ago, and now he serves as a BioBuilderClub mentor and workshop instructor. He pursued his early interest in synthetic biology at University of Maryland, where he participated in the hardware track of iGEM. His team engineered a -80 freezer that could be built from component parts that cost less than 10% of the commercial versions of the lab equipment. Chris is now at Boston University pursuing his PhD in BioEngineering. His thesis work is exploring ways to visualize RNA in real time inside living cells.
22 minutes | Feb 27, 2022
Season 2 Episode 2: Meet Jenny Nemlekar
Jenny is a creative whose work designing the first BioBuilder website influenced her career path from biomedical engineer to successful luxury handbag maker, marketer, and woman-led business owner.
25 minutes | Jan 30, 2022
Season 2 Episode 1: Meet Tian Shi
Tian Shi is a senior at Georgetown University who came to BioBuilder's Learning Lab as a high school student and designed a biotechnology that she is now commercializing. She has also written a book on entrepreneurship and credits her work with BioBuilder for helping her see herself as an agent of change.
32 minutes | Dec 28, 2021
Episode 12: Meet Angela Girodier
Angela Girodier is a senior undergraduate student at Emmanuel College, majoring in biology and secondary education. She is an alumna of the BioBuilder Apprenticeship Program. In this podcast, she describes how a science scavenger hunt in 8th grade and a grant proposal she wrote for her high school biotech program put her a path to a science career. These experiences revealed the fun, creative, and useful parts of science, and led her to find a way in. Her high school teacher encouraged her to apply to BioBuilder's Apprenticeship Program, which she did in 2017. The BioBuilder Apprenticeship taught her lab math and techniques which she describes as vital to her success in college -- especially when she needed to take her lab remotely. She also recalls how the Apprenticeship's emphasis on teamwork and networking helped her build her resume and make the most of her summer internships at MassBiologics and at Merck. Looking ahead, Angela wants to work with kids of diverse backgrounds in low income communities, helping to bring more diversity into the STEM industry. In November 2021, Angela spoke at BioBuilder's 10th anniversary celebration and the opening of BioBuilder's new Learning Lab in Boston's Seaport. A video of her inspirational talk is linked here
19 minutes | Nov 28, 2021
Episode 11: Meet Rebecca Millman
Zeeshan Siddiqui, BioBuilder's podcast host, notes: A particular topic of conversation I found really insightful was hearing about BioBuilder's tried and tested model over the past 10 years, where you start a curriculum in a school district and an area, you then start the Clubs in that area. Then you have cohorts that go through all the programming and you develop your teacher base there. But at the same time, you're talking to the region about what the bio-economy can bring to them. And this is how you get everyone involved, local governments and local businesses, local higher educational institutes, and hearing about this model and BioBuilder's goals was really inspirational and insightful. I believe this episode will be of great interest to everyone involved with BioBuilder at all levels, as well as higher educational institutions, stakeholders, governments, interested in learning more about the strategy that BioBuilder applied to become so successful over the past decade and realizing how critical BioBuilder is in terms of building and scaling up the future of biotech education. Not only in the states, but worldwide,
28 minutes | Oct 31, 2021
Episode 10: Meet Karen Katz
Karen is a legal and healthcare executive, entrepreneur, and business development leader. She is currently the Deputy Director at the Office of Behavioral Health at MassHealth. Karen was one of the very first members on the BioBuilder Board of Directors. She helped shepherd the nonprofit from its earliest days, oversaw significant expansion of the Board, and helped BioBuilder keep its content freely accessible while establishing new partnerships and collaborations.
27 minutes | Sep 26, 2021
Episode 9: Meet Amin Hajimorad
Amin Hajimorad earned his B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Iowa State University, Ames, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. Amin is currently an associate professor at California State University, Chico. He first got involved with BioBuilder back in 2010, where he worked on developing lab content and synthetic biology workshops for undergraduate students to get exposed to the general aspects of synthetic biology. In today’s episode, we discuss the influence of BioBuilder on his teaching now, and how the BioBuilder curriculum works with the various students he's taught.
20 minutes | Aug 27, 2021
Episode 8: Meet Kevin Fuentes
Kevin Fuentes is a first generation Salvadoran-American now studying chemical engineering and biochemistry at Tufts University. He discovered BioBuilder when Dr. Kuldell gave a presentation to one of his science classes. He completed the Apprenticeship Challenge in the spring of 2019 and did his internship at BioBuilder during the summer, testing the synthetic biology lab kits that BioBuilder provides to schools.
23 minutes | Jul 23, 2021
Episode 7: Meet Lindsey L'Ecuyer
Lindsey L'Ecuyer is an award-winning biotechnology teacher at Andover High School in Massachusetts. She has been empowering students to become independent learners for over 13 years. She is also a BioBuilder Ambassador and as part of her BioBuilderClub, Lindsey’s students have appeared on local news stations, published in the journal BioTreks, and were finalists in the international Spellman High Voltage CleanTech competition in New York City for their work using engineered cells to break down plastic in the ocean. Lindsey recently began a Doctorate program in education where she plans to develop research-based pedagogy that provides special education students with more opportunities for mastery, creativity, and self-identity in biotechnology.