Feature Story

Baxter Seeds Real World Experience in Stem Learning for Chicago Area Students

Two high school students conducting an experiment in biotechnology class

Baxter’s Science@Work program works to revolutionize the typical high school science class by integrating real world experiments into the biotechnology class at Lindblom Math & Science Academy in Chicago. This lesson focuses on the effects of DNA when exposed to UV light and how various protective measures can lessen the damage.

In a world where science and engineering skills are becoming more essential to move a technology-based society forward, building a classic baking soda volcano or making ice cream in a bag during chemistry class is no longer enough to equip today’s students with the knowledge they need. Baxter thrives on its core mission to save and sustain lives with the most advanced technology, but as part of its effort to continue making a difference for patients and healthcare providers around the world, Baxter recognizes innovation needs to start in the classroom.

In partnership with Northwestern University’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships, the Baxter Center for Science Education, a part of the Baxter Science@Work initiative, has taken its mission to revolutionize science in the classroom to the biotechnology class at Lindblom Math & Science Academy and other high schools in the Chicagoland area by providing classrooms with the supplies and instructions they need to conduct real world experiments. As bio-tech labs with advanced technology can often be costly, teachers who undergo a workshop receive free Baxter Box lab kits, which include materials like test tubes, solutions, gloves and petri dishes, among other equipment.

One lesson that utilizes the kits is “DNA Damage and Repair: What Happens to Your Skin When Exposed to UV Light.” Students receive pure DNA and conduct experiments with various protective measures (i.e. sunglasses and sunscreen) to determine the amount of damage caused by sun exposure.

“The program helps close the gap between standard science class experiments and professional ones, allowing our students to get a taste of the complex problems they might solve in the real world,” says Josh Paschedag, a biotech teacher at Lindblom. “Looking at genetic testing on breast cancer, for example, is not only far more engaging but insightful.”

“The program helps close the gap between standard science class experiments and professional ones, allowing our students to get a taste of the complex problems they might solve in the real world.”

- Josh Paschedag, a biotech teacher at Lindblom

Josh, originally a medical genetics professional at LabCorp, notes with this platform, student curiosity isn’t forced as it might be in a standard science class, but it flourishes as they experience challenges that reflect the world around them.

The program offers a professional development series for Chicagoland teachers, “Bringing biotech from the Bench to the K-12 Classroom” which connects educators with leading scientists for perspectives on scientific innovation that is shaping healthcare today. Last year, 146 teachers from 94 schools participated in the series, bringing the program to more than 17,500 students each year. Teachers also receive in-person assistance and coaching during the school year to ensure the program reaches its highest potential when integrated in the classroom.

Ambition radiates off the students learning from the program’s integration at Lindblom, as they have chosen to take this elective course in order to fulfill their dreams not of becoming a professional athlete or Broadway star, but of someday being a nurse or biomedical engineer. The experiments are very much self-directed, allowing students to independently create a hypothesis and test out their procedure instead of taking instruction directly from the teacher.

Using every second of the 75-minute period to organize supplies, develop lab reports and analyze DNA, the biotech students have no time for distraction. Each presents an innate interest in answering their hypothesis and maximizing their time with the supplies.

Teaching assistant and senior at Lindblom Tavis Thompson is just as enthused. Tavis took the biotech elective last year and stayed on for an additional year to help students in their own experiments and see if he can pick up additional nuggets of viable knowledge as the program evolves year over year.

“This class is not just another video or presentation, but gives us a chance to work in real life settings,” Tavis said. “I’m still learning a lot as an assistant before I go off to college. It can take so long to get there, but now I feel like my future is about to begin.”