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Beginnings

BioTrain has its humble beginnings as an expansion of the Charger Products program begun in collaboration with the Partnership for Biotechnology Research in 2005. The opening of HudsonAlpha and three years of Charger Products paved the way to the expanded BioTrain program. The 2009 BioTrain program offered internship opportunities in four areas: educational outreach, associate company, educational kit research and development, and education team research. As BioTrain begins its first summer internship offering, we are encouraged at the response we have received.

Partnerships

BioTrain was successful in building partnerships with five associate companies that share space within HudsonAlpha. Associate partners were able to offer a total of 15 intern positions for the summer, June 1 – July 31. In addition, the Partnership for Biotechnology Research and the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center were able to sponsor one undergraduate intern position each. Three BioTrain participants were paid directly through an associate company and one graduate student intern in education outreach received academic credit, therefore requiring no funding from the U.S. Department of Labor VIA-WIRED grant. The 15 associate company positions, the 2 positions offered through PBR and the GSC and the 8 positions offered by education outreach provided 25 internship positions across three educational levels: 2 graduate, 19 undergraduate, and 4 high school. Eighteen of the 25 were funded either in-part or wholly by WIRED.

2009 BioTrain

BioTrain applications were accepted from March 1 – March 31, 2009. During that time period, BioTrain received 297 applications. Applications were received from individuals from more than 20 states, although more than two-thirds were from Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. After sorting applicants according to their preferred position and the criteria set by each internship position, applications were distributed among the decision makers in the associate companies and educational outreach team. Applicants chosen to fill positions at associate companies were reported to the coordinator of educational outreach at HudsonAlpha. The HudsonAlpha educational outreach team selected applicants from the pool meeting the criteria set for the educational outreach, educational kit research and development, and sample-to-sequence internship positions. All positions posted, save one, were successfully filled. Twenty-four of the 25 interns entering BioTrain during the summer of 2009 completed the program on July 31. The individual not completing the program had been offered and accepted full-time employment with a HudsonAlpha associate company before the program was complete. BioTrain interns were required to attend professional development sessions each week for the nine weeks of the internship. During professional development, leaders of various associate companies, as well as principal investigators from each of the research labs at HudsonAlpha, provided round table discussions. Additionally, professional behavior, communication skills and presentation creation were discussed. Each intern was required to present a research poster of his or her activities throughout their experience. The poster presentation was held at HudsonAlpha so that HudsonAlpha researchers, associate company employees and invitees from the public could attend. At least five BioTrain participants were retained by an associate company after the conclusion of the 2009 BioTrain program. Associate company contacts indicate at least one will continue work as an intern throughout the academic year and others will continue throughout the end of the summer. The high quality of participants and good working relationships between associate companies and BioTrain have contributed to the success of the program. Two BioTrain participants have succeeded in securing full-time employment as a result of the program. One participant offered and accepted a full-time position with an associate company within HudsonAlpha during the BioTrain program. As the need for the position was immediate, that intern was released from the program two weeks early. Another participant was offered full-time employment and is expected to begin work during August, 2009.

Economics

The development of BioTrain allowed 24 students paid internship opportunities during summer 2009. Internships range in number of hours per week from 10-40 depending on the position. Additionally, a varied pay scale based on educational level was used to equalize all BioTrain internship positions offered by the five associate companies: high school level – $10.00/hour, undergraduate level – $12.00/hour, and graduate school level – $14.00/hour. Over the nine-week summer period June 1 – July 31, BioTrain interns contributed over 500 work hours per week (approximately 4,900 hours total) and were compensated an average of $6,390 per week ($57,526 total) in hourly wages. WIRED funds were used to support 18 of the 25 BioTrain interns totaling over half (2,822 hours, $31,864) of BioTrain 2009 program.

Future Directions

BioTrain will continue in 2010 and will expand to allow applicants from across Alabama to participate. We expect that limited residency will be available for participants outside of the greater Huntsville area through campus housing at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Additionally, new positions within HudsonAlpha researchers’ labs will be offered. Information for BioTrain 2010 will be available online beginning in January of 2010 and applications will be accepted mid-February through mid-March. Decisions will be made by mid-April to accommodate applicant decisions on summer school enrollment. The HudsonAlpha educational outreach team looks forward to another group of outstanding young scientists for BioTrain 2010.

Education Benefits to HudsonAlpha

The educational outreach internship program that was launched in January 2009 with two Athens State students will be continued over the summer providing a similar opportunity to two high school students. Incorporating interns into the educational outreach program benefits both the interns and the education department. Interns hone teaching and communication skills interacting with the public, younger students and their peers. At the same time, interns learn a valuable set of biotechnology skills that will positively impact many of their remaining high school science courses, as well as provide a boost to introductory biology and chemistry college classes. For our part, the summer calendar for education is packed full and the interns increase the educational reach of HudsonAlpha programming. They can very effectively communicate with their peers and represent the next generation of scientists and educators.