Franklin County students make biotechnology education a priority

Posted January 16, 2012 5:47 a.m. EST
Updated January 21, 2012 9:56 a.m. EST

— North Carolina has long been one of the national leaders in biotechnology jobs, ranking in the top three in the field.

Despite that, there hasn't been a big push to educate students at the high school level. One high school in Franklin County is changing that.

Thanks to the support of a local biotechnology company and the foresight of school system leaders, students at Franklinton High School have been learning since 2006 about the field many of them will end up working in.

The class, introduction to biotechnology, was the first of its kind in the state and allows students to do research and get hands-on experience in a field used to grow food, make medicines and create alternative energy fuel.

Taught by Winn Clayton, the all-in-one class that combines biology, anatomy and chemistry currently allows 18 students to get invaluable experience.

"It's a lot more hands-on work," Clayton said. "We do a lot of lab."

Freshman Matteo Napolitano said the class offers students the opportunity to learn about several different things in one setting.

"We get to deal with bacteria and learn about cells and everything else about the body and how it functions," he said. 

The class was the result of a $25,000 investment by Novozymes, a industrial enzymes company based in Franklinton. The money paid for the equipment the students use and was the first push by the company to become involved with biotechnology education.

Students take field trips to Novozymes to shadow employees and scientists also visit the class often. Students can also continue with biotech courses at Vance-Granville Community College and earn college credit.

"We need good, young, bright students interested in this field to make a difference. To have the work force we're going to need in the future," Novozymes American president Adam Monroe said.

Even in six years, the relationship between Franklinton High School and Novozymes has had an impact. About 30 percent of Franklinton students go on to work in biotech careers. Napolitano may fall into that group.

"At first I wanted to become a cook and do culinary art," he said. "But I got into this class and I fell in love with it and kind of want to go into the medical field now."

Jordan High School in Durham also has a program for biotechnology.