Lebanon High School partnered with Volunteer State Community College to develop a new science, technology, engineering and math biotechnology program. The school first began offering biotech classes last year, as a part of the school’s career technical education program. The new equipment, which was added during the summer, is expected to enhance the learning experiences for students.
While other states have offered biotech classes for a number of years, the class offered at Lebanon High School is the first of its kind in Tennessee, according to Wilson County Schools spokesperson Jennifer Johnson.
On Thursday, Lebanon science teacher Melissa Bunch will show off the new lab and explain why it is such a groundbreaking opportunity for students who take it.
Bunch created the four-course program, along with Joe Dolan with the science department at Volunteer State Community College.
The program focuses on science skills, but also on career readiness, which includes team cooperation and professional skills.
“What we want to do at Lebanon is create a very unique program for an area that has been very underserved in our state,” Bunch said last year.
“We know that STEM careers and STEM education are rising and becoming a great interest across the state and country. We know there are a lot of different programs across the country,” Lebanon principal Scott Walters said last year. “We wanted to do something unique at Lebanon High School that would offer some different opportunities, maybe, than anywhere else in the county.”
The program is based in biotechnology, which Bunch described as the use of biology with technology, usually with a product focus. She said students would be able to use learned skills on a broad spectrum due to the range of subjects biotechnology covers.
“Biotechnology is one area that fills that niche very well because it covers the gamma of everything from science to technology to engineering and the use of mathematics,” she said. “It does not narrow the focus to just one particular niche in the industry. They would have experience whether they go into a biological setting, chemistry setting or if they into an actual biotech lab.”
Bunch, who is also an adjunct teacher at Lipscomb University, said the university has a hard time finding students ready to enter the biology and chemistry programs. She said other colleges have the same trouble, which makes it difficult for employers to find skilled workers.
“This is really where this program can serve our community in a great capacity,” she said.
Bunch said based on state data, in 2012, there were 252,000 STEM employees in the state, which is expected to increase by 43,000 by 2020.
“The great part about this is not only would our students get high school credit for these, but they would get college credit for these courses, as well,” said Bunch, who noted last year supportive universities included Volunteer State, Belmont, Tennessee Tech and Cumberland, with hopes of adding Lipscomb to the list.
The STEM program at Lebanon is based on a 20-year program at San Mateo High School, which is just outside of San Francisco.
Bunch began her teaching career at Martin Luther King Magnet, where she started a molecular program that still exists at the school.