The Regional Biotech Program at The University of Texas-Pan American has caught the attention of a group of educational leaders from across the world, all the way from the African nation of Cameroon.
Since the addition of the Mobile Lab to the Regional Biotech Program at UTPA, the University joins one of just a handful of schools in the nation that have the capacity to take science on the road.
"They're wanting to have a biotech and a mobile lab like we have in their own country," said Mary Ann Escamilla, a health education coordinator at UTPA who spent time training the delegation during the week. "We're sharing ideas with them because what they have is limited resources, which is very similar to what our Valley schools face. So what they're seeing is how we utilize the resources that we have."
The Regional Biotech Program provides hands-on teaching in biotechnology principles and practices with state-of-the-art equipment. The program targets fifth through 12th grade students and is administered by the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at UTPA. The Regional Biotech Mobile Lab, which was officially unveiled in a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony, brings the laboratory environment to the schools and is thus able to reach students in underserved regions throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
"When we came across this program of a mobile laboratory in Cameroon, we became very interested because we realized it's a very relevant tool for us to solve the problem of practical training for students around Cameroon," said Etoa Francois-Xavier, technical adviser in the Office of the Prime Minister of Cameroon.
Francois-Xavier was accompanied by Mofor Tengwa, technical adviser to the minister of higher education in Cameroon, and Thomas Eyambe, director general of the Office of the Prime Minister of Cameroon.
The trio was quite impressed with the capabilities of the program and the potential benefits it could have in their country.
"One thing that impressed me the most about the program - the whole concept, training kids, training them in biotechnology. That's the most interesting part," Eyambe said. "This program could benefit our country in the sense that we would be able to train a lot of high school kids. We don't have the necessary funding to build laboratories in schools, so a mobile lab will actually be able to move from one school to another, from one town to another, training kids."
The members of the delegation said this program is something they would like to develop in Cameroon.
"My expectation is that, if we can implement this mobile lab at home for our universities, it will strengthen the capacity of students in science, and we know that any country can develop if it develops in technology and science," Francois-Xavier said.
While visiting, Escamilla trained the delegation in two of the modules the program offers to students, one in genetic transformation and the other a diagnostic lab where a patient is identified with a genetic illness. The delegation also observed as GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) students tried to solve a mock crime scene using evidence collection and genetic analysis, and they rounded out the week by observing a Gifted and Talented summer camp in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district, where students were working on a module that deals with DNA extraction.
"They have been very intrigued and impressed by the students they have observed. They have expressed interest in returning to identify other types of ideas as well," Escamilla said. "It is incredible that there is such an interest in the field halfway around the world, and the idea that we are definitely doing something right is phenomenal."
For more information about the Regional Biotech Program at UTPA, contact the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at 956/318-5269 or log on to http://www.panam.edu/dept/biotech.