On a recent morning, high school students in white coats and goggles were hard at work purifying colorful proteins in Professor Donald Spratt’s laboratory, a task requiring focus, curiosity, and the careful handling of fluorescent green liquid. But important lessons were occurring beyond the execution of the experiment. These young scientists were asking questions, learning lab protocols, and discovering the value of precision when converting a scientific concept into a tangible result.
This spring, Spratt, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, hosted two classes of biotechnology students from Worcester Technical High School Biotechnology Program. He also worked one-on-one with a Worcester Tech rising junior who conducted a summer internship in Spratt’s lab. The universal goal: Spark an interest in STEM learning and careers.
The Clark experience augments the Worcester Tech curriculum, which offers students as much as 1,000 hours of biotechnology training over the course of their high school career. The Worcester Public School Department has seized the opportunity to introduce students to this burgeoning field now that the city has become a key piece of a “biomedical corridor” that includes Boston and Cambridge. Last year, WuXi Biologics, a Chinese biomanufacturer, signed an agreement with the city and state to build a $60-million facility in Worcester, joining dozens of biotech companies that have established themselves in the city.
Spratt is committed to fostering career opportunities in the sciences for Clark students, but as the child of scientists himself, he appreciates the value of exposing students to STEM studies as early as possible in their academic journeys. He arrived at the idea for a partnership with Worcester Tech after chatting with one of the school’s guidance counselors at a Christmas party. The counselor told him about the school’s biotechnology program, which also provides internships at University of Massachusetts Medical School and WPI.
“Making meaningful connections with the community is what Clark is all about,” Spratt said. “By giving high school students these kinds of positive experiences early, I’m hoping we can inspire them to go into biotechnology or STEM.”
“We’re so excited and happy to have this collaboration with Dr. Spratt,” noted Andrea Pereira, biotechnology teacher at Worcester Tech who accompanied her students to the Clark lab. “Our students have learned about protein purification, but not this way. His biochemistry lab is very well set up to train our kids.”