Amgen Foundation grant helps URI bring real-world biotechnology to Rhode Island high schools

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KINGSTON, R.I – June 25, 2012 — The University of Rhode Island has been awarded a $94,000 grant from the Amgen Foundation to continue to offer the Amgen-Bruce Wallace Biotechnology Lab Program to high school students throughout the state. It is the sixth year that Amgen has funded the program at URI, with grant funds totaling over $500,000 over that time period.

The lab program provides science teachers and students with hands-on laboratory experience in biotechnology techniques using professional, research-grade equipment and materials that can be shared among many classrooms. The curriculum materials included in the kits feature the same equipment used by the biotechnology industry, including electrophoresis equipment for DNA separation, centrifuges, micropipettes, consumables for growing bacteria, and an incubator.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to provide high school students with hands-on experience learning the techniques used in one of our fastest growing career fields,” said Gregory Paquette, professor of cell and molecular biology and director of biotechnology programs at URI. “Very few schools in Rhode Island have the means to offer biotechnology lessons in their curricula, so this grant provides eye-opening opportunities for hundreds of additional students in the state. We are deeply grateful for the continued generosity of the Amgen Foundation.”

The Amgen-Bruce Wallace Biotechnology Lab Program is transforming classrooms with real-world science in multiple communities where Amgen has a presence, including Rhode Island, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Washington and England. More than 5,000 students, 100 teachers, and 50 middle and high schools in Rhode Island have participated in the program since its inception in 2007, with the program reaching more than 40,000 students per year across all communities.

“The Amgen-Bruce Wallace Biotechnology Lab Program is a shining example of the Amgen Foundation’s commitment to advancing science education and increasing science literacy in our communities,” said Tony Pankau, Amgen’s vice president of Rhode Island operations. “This program leverages Amgen’s more than thirty years of experience in recombinant DNA technology and brings it to life for thousands of students. It’s a curriculum that really grabs students’ attention and gives them a new appreciation and excitement for science.”

“I can’t imagine anything in my school as interesting or as challenging or as rigorous as the Amgen materials,” said Julie Pankowicz, a science teacher at Coventry High School, who uses the equipment and curriculum to teach lessons in forensics, biology, physical science and biotechnology. “It has totally changed my curriculum and the process of learning. I’ll be teaching four biotechnology classes next year, all because of those materials. And my students love it. The opportunities it has opened up for them are unimaginable.”

All of the equipment, training and supplies necessary to implement the three-week program are provided to schools and teachers at no cost. Teachers receive curriculum and training at the biotechnology manufacturing laboratory at the URI Providence campus. To learn more, visit

Pictured above

Coventry High School science teacher Julie Pankowicz guides Matt Salvas in photo one and Patrick Shea in photo two, through a forensic science exercise using equipment provided by URI through a grant from the Amgen Foundation. URI

Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Joe Giblin.