North’s biotechnology program wins Excellence in Action award

Courtesy photo by Divya Nagri Students from Nashua High School North’s biotechnology rrogram gather during the New Hampshire Science Expo, which took place in late March. The biotechnology program was awarded the Excellence in Action award from Advance CTE.

NASHUA – This week, Nashua High School North’s Biotechnology Career Technical Education program was one of eight programs across the country that received the Excellence in Action award from Advance CTE. Programs received this award for providing clear pathways into college and careers, rigorous academic and technical coursework, strong industry partnerships and effective work-based learning experiences that offer opportunities for career exploration and subject-matter mastery.

Biotechnology instructors Francine Brown and Divya Nagri submitted data in November from the 2017-2018 school year. Their data showed that 100 percent of the students in their program graduated, 100 percent enrolled in post-secondary education and 81 percent of their students receive some sort of college credit as part of Running Start, a program that allows high school students to take classes at local colleges for credit.

The program is offered to a diverse population as well. Last year’s data showed that 52 percent of enrollees were female and 48 percent were male. Minorities made up 25 percent of the program and students with disabilities made up 12 percent.

“We are accessible to everyone,” Nagri said. “We like to make sure this program is available for as many interested students as possible.”

The program is available to area students as well. Nagri said there are students from Hollis-Brookline High School, Alvirne High School and Merrimack High School who participate.

The biotechnology program is a two-year program that has been running since North first opened its doors in 2003.

Brown said Biotechnology 1 students focus on microbiology skills. In Biotechnology 2, they focus on cellular and molecular biology, along with DNA and protein science. Students showcase their skills by completing a capstone project their first year and a research project their second.

As part of the biotechnology classes, students are required to do independent research projects. Students can choose to present at the New Hampshire Science and Engineering Expo, which Brown said is a truly valuable experience.

“We really strive to have a depth of knowledge that the students have to meet in order to be successful in this class,” Nagri said.

“I think one of the great things about our course is that there a lot of applicability to many different careers,” she added. “We have students that do go on to medical school, do go on to research, they go on to pharmaceutical companies; the typical things you may think of, but we have many students who go into forensics, who go on into police careers, dental school, they go on into micro bio engineering, a lot of our students go into chemical engineering, a lot of students go into computer science.”

Brown and Nagri try to bring real-world experiences to class every day. In addition, Brown said one state competency for the bio tech programs as part of CTE is an understanding of bio-ethical conduct, which they try to embed into their curriculum. Brown said they do philosophical Fridays, where they discuss the ethics behind an issue. The students also talk about current trending science issues that appear in the news, such as the recent measles outbreak in New York and gene editing. She said they are very flexible with their lesson plans, because this gives them a sense of the real world.

Since the program first started, Brown said it has evolved and taken on the expertise of the different instructors. One of high influence was Mary Stewart, a teacher in the program for seven years, who Nagri said set the vision, and many of its partnerships with local businesses and universities.

Nagri and Brown also spoke highly of each other. Nagri said their partnership and collaboration is 100 percent to the benefit of the students.

“We’re able to provide the best of both of our experiences, with (Brown’s) background in chemistry, my background is in chemical engineering. We really are able to pool a lot of those experiences we have from our own industry experiences to be able to give the student really their best vision of what this field is like and how the skills they learned can be translated into any career,” Nagri said.

“Our approach here is to give students what we felt was lacking somewhat in our own high school experiences,” she added.

“I really feel like I’m teaching future scientists, future engineers, future doctors,” Brown said. “I think it’s really exciting to spark their curiosity when they’re in high school. If we get some scientists out of our program, then we have done our job.”