August 9, 2016

Biotech Institute Program Seeking Mentors for Aspiring Teens

Carlmont’s Biotechnology Institute (BTI) is currently seeking to recruit individuals to serve as career mentors for its 11th grade student members. The program is in its second year of operation and is laying a strong foundation in biotechnology education and early career development for its young members.

We talked to director Faith Velschow about the BTI program and its upcoming mentoring component. “The importance of working with a professional and seeing where they work is about visualizing the pathway and understanding the steps it will take to get where they want to go,” Velschow said. “In the BTI program, not only do we offer symposiums and field trips with biotech professionals, but the mentor program is designed to clearly show them that this is something they too can aspire to.”

Next-generation biotech education at Carlmont’s BTI

The BTI at Carlmont is a uniquely specialized program located in Belmont, CA that accelerates its student members toward a career in biotechnology. This inaugural group of students is now entering the second year of the program, throughout which they will be given invaluable guidance from mentors who are professionals in the field of biotechnology.

Carlmont High School has a relatively long history of biotechnology education as part of its general curriculum. The school started offering biotech classes some 14 years ago, when the field began to proliferate in the Bay Area. However, three teachers at the school had a vision for a program that went above and beyond these courses by blending education and the development of science and career skills. With this mission, the Biotech Institute was founded.

Today, the BTI is described by Velschow as “a home for the science-minded kids at Carlmont, to feed their science curiosity and help increase science literacy.” The still-growing program will consist of three small cohorts of about 50 students each from the 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. The program provides a more intimate, personalized, and rigorous learning environment with science themes running through all elements of the curriculum. Student members of BTI are a high-performing and motivated group, and the mentor program is yet another dimension of the BTI that will help them flourish.

The BTI stands out as unique opportunity in secondary education, but its organizers hope that the example they are setting will be adopted more widely as a model for specialized biotech education. “As far as we know, this is the only Biotechnology Institute that is inclusive of English, Social Studies and Biotechnology,” noted Velschow. However, “Career Technology Education is a growing and rapidly expanding piece of education today and we hope that there will be many similar programs to the BTI that develop based on the industry sectors throughout California.”

Members of the first cohort of students at a Biotech Institute conference in 2015.

Members of the first cohort of students at a Biotech Institute conference in 2015.

BTI is already sowing the seeds of success

Although BTI was inducted only a year ago, the program is already opening doors for its young members. One such member is Julia Griesbach who was accepted to the Science Internship Program through UC Santa Cruz. Through this program, Griesbach has spent the summer at the California Academy of Sciences conducting research on an existing real-world project under the mentorship of UCSC faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers.

Griesbach gives credit to her BTI education for her success within the internship program. “80% of the skills that I’m using in the laboratory I had already done in class at Carlmont’s BTI, including extracting DNA, performing PCR, and running a gel,” said the 16 year old junior, who aspires to continue her academic career in oceanography.

Many other students like Griesbach are now in need of mentors through BTI’s own program.  Their interests run the gamut of possibilities within the biotech industry, including everything from sales and human resources to programming and experimentation.

Interested in becoming a mentor?

If you are a biotech professional in the Bay Area who is interested in inspiring a student, building a stronger community, and promoting your industry then the BTI mentor program is a great fit for you.

BTI mentors will be responsible for working with their mentees remotely and in person to answer questions and provide guidance on how to pursue a successful career in biotechnology. Mentors will dedicate a few hours a month to communicate with their mentee. In addition, they will meet with their mentee in person four times between the beginning of the program in November and its conclusion in May.

Importantly, mentors must be able to travel to Belmont for these meetings, which is located 22 miles south of San Francisco or 14 miles south of the South San Francisco Conference Center.

Interested individuals can learn more about the mentoring program here and by viewing BTI Mentor Program Director Faith Velschow’s presentation at the upcoming SynBioBeta conference in San Francisco. You can sign up to participate in her session here or contact Ms. Velschow directly at 650-464-1162 or