School creating home for hands-on biotech

Before enrolling in San Mateo High School’s biotechnology classes, Shashank Sanjay did not know science would be a big part of his life.

Sanjay said he was interested in the hands-on lab work the classes offered — as opposed to traditional biology and chemistry — and decided to sign up for the course.

Two years later, the 17-year-old senior said he has focused on science as a career and even landed a 180-hour summer internship, during which he was able to successfully extract and multiply DNA.

“We tried to create a gene,” he said. “And we were successful. It was really fun.”

San Mateo High School students will soon have a new home in which to perform experiments and attend classes. A new 12,500-square-foot biotechnology building is in the works.

The project, estimated to cost $5.4 million, will be ready by next school year. It will give the department a two-story building with classrooms, lab and office space, officials said.

The project is funded by grants from local biotech companies and part of the $298 million Measure M bond, passed by San Mateo voters in 2006, according to district officials.

Biotech instructor Jimmy Ikeda said the new building is a long time coming.

Students spend roughly 90 percent of their time doing lab work, he said. When the program began 10 years ago, there were two classes; now the department has 11 biotechnology classes — and it continues to grow.

San Mateo County is home to nearly 1,000 biotechnology centers including Genentech, Oracle, Fibrogen and Stanford Medical Center, among many others.

Peter Burchyns, spokesman for the San Mateo County Office of Education, said because of the county’s close proximity to companies in this field and major universities, offering the course in high school is becoming increasingly important.

“The potential these students have in these courses for future employment, economic activity in the county and the positive contributions of health and well-being in lives is critical,” Burchyns said.

In addition to San Mateo High, Aragon, Capuchino and Sequoia high schools also offer biotech classes. College of San Mateo offers an associate’s degree in science with a biotechnology emphasis, according to its catalog.

Ikeda said many students have gone on to study biotechnology after graduating from high school, which is why his school’s program focuses on hands-on experiments.

“We’ve always had this philosophy that scientists learn by doing, they can’t read about it,” he said. “Have to actually do it.”

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

DNA discipline

San Mateo High School biotechnology courses

Biotechnology 1: Lab proficiencies

Biotechnology 2: Modeling the production of a recombinant protein

Biotechnology 3: Agricultural and pharmaceutical

Biotechnology 4: Protein and DNA diagnostics

Biotechnology services internship: Unpaid (minimum) 180-hour industry lab position

Source: San Mateo High School Biotechnology Career Pathway

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