When the Amgen Biotech Experience began in 1990, the Human Genome Project had just completed its initial planning for the 15-year effort to map all the genes of human beings. Since then, not only has the human genome been mapped and sequenced but also the field of biotechnology has advanced to a point that might have been unrecognizable 30 years ago. Every step of the way, ABE has also evolved and grown—now reaching students in 13 countries globally. But at the root of this growth has always been teachers willing to go above and beyond to deliver this innovative curriculum to their students.
Lindsay Guntner and Laura Widerberg are two of the latest teachers to join the ABE community—in the first teacher cohort from one of the newer ABE sites in the United States, Tampa, FL. Upon the recommendation of their district supervisor, they attended a training program in San Francisco in June 2018, which introduced them to ABE for the first time.
“The only thing I knew upon arrival was that Amgen Foundation had an outreach program with teachers called the Amgen Biotech Experience and that they were considering partnering with Hillsborough County and the University of South Florida to bring the experience to teachers in the Tampa Bay area,” says Widerberg of Armwood High School. “What I experienced during the week was an amazing collaboration with UC Berkeley, Amgen Foundation, and the teachers to bring lab grade biotech equipment and reagents to local high school students.”
Soon after, Widerberg and Guntner helped to establish ABE Tampa, with a pilot year right after the training and their first full year ending in 2020. “It has been exciting to see the program grow in the Tampa Bay area. To be able to bring back what I learned in California and finally be able to share it with my students was amazing,” Widerberg says. “The students have been very impressed with the quality of the equipment, the ABE storyline, and their lab results.”
Widerberg is now a teacher facilitator and loves working with other teachers to train them with the ABE equipment and curriculum. “When we can empower the teachers with the tools and knowledge they need, they can impact more students,” she says.
Guntner of Brandon High School has enjoyed seeing how ABE has empowered her students to “take ownership of their learning,” she says. “It is a truly unique experience as everything is provided for you to complete a series of laboratory activities that we normally shy away from due to lack of access to equipment and materials.”
A highlight for Guntner has been when her class conducted an ABE lab for a local broadcast TV station. Her students volunteered and took the lead, giving the correspondent reporter a lab coat and walking him through the mini versions of the abridged ABE lab series. “I loved seeing the TV crew engage with my bioscience students,” she says. “The students became the mentors! They were confident, had taken complete ownership of what they were doing, and you could see how such a practical, authentic experience empowered an even stronger love of science.”
Adapting ABE and their teaching in spring 2020 due to the pandemic was a challenge but, says Guntner, “teachers are very adaptable.” Online learning, she says, “opened some new doors for some of my students compared to traditional brick and mortar learning.”
Both teachers are looking forward to when they can return to the classroom to continue to bring ABE to students in the Tampa area.
“I am so happy to have this experience for my students,” Guntner says. “Not only does it excite students about the science and allow them to deepen their understanding, but it has allowed me to grow professionally and improve my teaching.”