Part One: A Look Back
Read part two of Robert’s story
The gathering of leaders in biotechnology has been an annual event for 20 years, but did you know that some of the best and brightest in attendance are still in high school?
Every year, the International BioGENEius Challenge invites the top biotechnology science competition winners from high schools across the United States, Canada and Western Australia to showcase their work and compete in what has become the Olympics of biotechnology. To simply compete at this level is a victory in itself, but the most amazing feature of the event is the portrait of things to come. The ideas and insights presented by these young students are merely the launching points for future technologies that will drive the future growth of our industry.
A brief history
BIO’s first annual meeting in 1993 also marked the launch of a novel community-based initiative aimed at engaging students in the new and emerging field of biotechnology. The student competition was an idea that the organization’s Toronto-based partners – from industry, academia and government – initiated as a part of the host delegation when Toronto hosted the BIO International Convention in 1994.
However, this wasn’t going to be any ordinary science fair project.
Students would have to write proposals for their research projects that would then be reviewed by local scientists. They would also need to have a mentor, either from industry or a university, that would work with them to provide guidance as well as access to equipment and facilities, which would not otherwise be available to high school students. Finally, the approved projects would be provided with funding to support the direct costs of research.
The success of the first local competition led to the expansion of the program across Canada, made possible through regional partners and the industry leadership and sponsorship of Sanofi Pasteur Canada (originally Toronto-based Connaught Laboratories, recognized historically as the first global manufacturer of insulin).
In 1998, BIO established the Biotechnology Institute to help educate the general public about biotechnology. The newly named BioGENEius Challenge was a key program that engaged high school students in biotechnology across the U.S. The annual BIO convention was the culminating event, bringing together the national winners from Canada (2) and the U.S. (10) to compete. In 2007, Western Australia joined the competition, sending additional delegates to compete.
Look for part two of Robert’s story next week.
About the Author
Robert Merson is an alumnus of the very first BioGENEius competition, attending the BIO conference as a high school senior in 1994. Following a university education in the sciences, he held several positions in the life sciences sector before settling on a career in management consulting. He has worked with firms in Toronto and Washington, D.C., and launched his own life sciences practice in 2005. Robert remains actively involved in career mentoring for students in the sciences, and has been selected as a judge for this year’s International BioGENEius Challenge.