BRITE Futures program provides middle and high schoolers an inside look into life sciences careers

Hands-on STEM programs invite students to learn first-hand what life could look like if they pursued a career in life sciences.

Posted Updated
David Arkin
This article was written for our sponsor, NCBiotech

There’s no better way for students to learn than with hands-on experience. But, for many years, because of the nature of the work, fields like the life sciences felt inaccessible to young people.

There's a local program that’s providing middle and high schoolers with real-world life sciences experience.

BRITE Futures, a program from North Carolina Central University that began in 2008, provides STEM engagement opportunities for middle and high school students and teachers from across the state through summer camps and visits to their facility.

BRITE stands for Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise. Its BRITE Futures program raises awareness about pharmaceutical sciences, educational opportunities, scholarships, and STEM-related careers.

"The purpose of this program is to bridge the gap between what's going on in the research lab and students’ awareness of what science is," said Betty Brown, outreach coordinator at BRITE.

Today at BRITE there are more than 40 scientists who are conducting research and offering training that supports workforce development for the biomanufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors in North Carolina. Through BRITE Futures, students learn about much of that work and take part in some of it.

Students get to visit

As part of the BRITE Futures program, students get the opportunity to visit research labs and meet scientists at the BRITE facility.

In addition, students can participate in hands-on STEM laboratory activities. Through participation in these activities, students get access to BRITE’s state-of-the-art equipment.

"The visit usually entails a hands-on experiment," said Carla Oldham, assistant research professor at NCCU. "They actually get to tour our facility and they actually get to meet some of our scientists to see what it is like to be a scientist."

The visits are vital in ensuring students understand that a career in biotechnology is a real and promising possibility.

"We'd like to certainly entice as many of those students as we can into the biotechnology field and we want them to learn more about the vast number of careers in the biotech industry. We’re trying to make science real and relevant for students," said Brown.

The exposure to the scientists is impactful for the students because so many of the students come from rural areas, and they have never visited a research facility.

BRITE is trying to give as many students as possible access to the program, both in person and virtually, through demonstrations and other educational activities.

"If we host virtual events, we send equipment or materials to the school so that the students can do hands-on activities," Brown said. "Our goal is to get students engaged and interested in science."

Demikia Surgeon Taylor, an animal sciences teacher with Durham Public Schools, took advantage of the virtual program for her students during the COVID-19 pandemic and raved about the experience.

"It was really cool, just to have that opportunity," Taylor said. "[BRITE instructors] were projected on a screen asking my students questions and they showed the extraction process step by step. Those students talked about it for days."

To follow-up on the experience, Taylor has scheduled in-person tours with BRITE for the future.

"I'm really excited about that," she said. "We're going to be able to go to the [NCCU] campus and actually tour the facility, and they're going to do a few different lessons with them in person."

Summer camps

Since 2010, more than 15 summer camps have been hosted on the NCCU campus, providing 200-plus students access to education about careers in science.

For those with an interest in science, there’s a one-week biotechnology summer camp that teaches the scientific concepts of biology and chemistry as well as laboratory skills.

Some of the subject areas that students can study include: Analysis of DNA, bacterial transformation, column chromatography, crime scene investigation, and genetically modified organisms.

With both visits and camps, students get to meet some of the professors who are conducting research.

"They will also be talking to some BRITE students who work with the scientists," said Brown. "And we found that this is a great model for allowing all students to be able to get their questions asked [and answered]."

How students can participate

Since 2008, the BRITE Futures program has served more than 15,000 students and 800 teachers from 92 different counties in North Carolina. But their hope is that those numbers are just the beginning.

Teachers and parents can get more information about BRITE programs at

BRITE sends information about their programs to teachers throughout the Triangle region every year to promote its engagement opportunities.

"Many of the experiments are … what you would see in a traditional lab," said Brown. "One of the ways that we tie this all together, so that they can see the importance of their experience and the value of it, is that they actually get to visit a biotechnology company."

With so many life science companies in the region needing workers with a science background, efforts like BRITE Futures keeps the talent pipeline full.

"This is a career that people can feel good about and they can truly make a contribution in," Brown said. "They can find different types of careers in the life sciences as they go along and they can find their place."

This article was written for our sponsor, NCBiotech