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Bayer Grant Gets Students Working in Biotechnology

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday August 22, 2006

Biotech Partners, formerly Berkeley Biotechnology Education, Inc/BBEI, received a surprise $150,000 grant from the Bayer Foundation on Wednesday, which reaffirmed Bayer Corporation’s commitment to the model biotechnology school-to-career program that the company established with the city of Berkeley 13 years ago. 

The grant was announced at Posters 2006, Biotech Partners’ annual event which highlights the achievements of 33 students from Berkeley High School and Oakland’s Life Academy of Health and Bioscience after they conclude their first summer internships in the biotechnology industry. 

Students have an opportunity to intern at leading biotech companies such as Bayer, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Kaiser Permanente, among others. 

The event, which included a poster presentation of displays of work completed in the students’ internship program, was attended by State Superintendent Jack O’Connell.  

Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the country’s first African-American female astronaut, was the keynote speaker.  

The grant will go on to help Biotech Partners build up its educational services to local high school and community college students. As the Bay Area’s only non-profit organization providing a “comprehensive and innovative hands-on, bioscience education and job training program” for students who are underrepresented in the sciences, Biotech Partners has achieved tremendous success and national recognition since its inception in 1993. 

“The grant is indicative of Bayer’s continued support to fund students who are economically backward,” said Deborah Bellush, Executive Director of Biotech Partners. “We hope others will take this as an example of how companies can partner with us to contribute towards education as well as the community and in the process have a pool of work-ready skilled employees to hire.” 

Bellush added that when Bayer founded the 30-year development agreement with the city in 1993 to set up the biotech facility, the community had wanted to know what the city would get from this partnership. 

“Bayer being a German Company emphasized the hands-on training that students would get out of this program,” she said. “They especially wanted to target a certain population, such as students who are not on the four-year college track, students of color and also women. What was developed was a curriculum in high school and community college which would provide hands-on on-the-job training as well as a paid summer internship for those who were eligible for it.” 

Students from Berkeley High School and Oakland’s Life Academy are recruited by Biotech Staff in their sophomore year. 

“We visit English classes, science classes, talk to counselors and parents at Berkeley High School,” Bellush said. “A lot of students get to know about this program through word of mouth. At the Life Academy, students who join our program are mostly those who are interested in health sciences.” 

Bellush added that after completing high school, students who were enrolled in the program could go on to a four-year college, a community college or attend the Bio-Science Career Institute at Laney college that is part of the program. 

High school students are also placed in eight-week paid summer internships, and freshmen-year community college students in one-year paid co-op worker positions at local biotech companies, healthcare institutions and research laboratories. 

Berkeley High’s student body president Tarissa Waldemar, who interned at Bayer Laboratories in Berkeley this summer, described the experience as “life changing.”  

“I learned so many new technologies, practices and met so many interesting and intelligent people at the electrophoresis lab at Bayer,” said the 17-year-old who will be a senior this fall. “I always knew I wanted to major in the sciences in college but now I know I want to go in particularly for biochemistry. It’s really amazing how so many other doors open up through this internship. I would definitely recommend it to students who are interested in a career in the health sciences.” 

Rebecca Lucore, spokesperson for the Bayer Foundation, told the Planet that the program’s success rate helped to win this additional grant. 

“Biotech Partners usually receives $25,000 to $30,000 annually from Bayer as part of the development agreement,” she said. “However, the program has grown so much and done so much for the community that the Board of Directors at the Bayer Foundation wanted to step it up and award them a separate grant. This $150,000 is separate from the development agreement and will be used over a three-year period.” 

Lucore added that the board was very impressed with the successful graduation rates in the program, which was one of the factors that decided the awarding of this grant. 

“Students who have joined the program in the eleventh grade have enjoyed a 98 percent graduation rate as compared to the 70 percent state average,” Lucore said. 

Crystal Simon, a 2002 graduate of Biotech Partners, said the program helped her to obtain the kind of skills she needed to get a job in the heath care industry. She landed her job in the Department of Purification at Bayer Pharmaceuticals in Berkeley right after graduating from high school. 

“The program helped with tutoring, with providing night classes and lots of hands-on training,” Simon said. “On the whole, it helped me to get to where I am today.” 


Photograph by Mark Coplan 

Summer intern and BHS student body president Tarissa Waldemar explains her project to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.