Wake Teacher Gets Microscopic View of Biotec Drug Development

2013-14 Kenan Fellow Erin Lawrence spent five weeks this summer shadowing Enoc Henry, associate director of quailty control at Biogen Idec. Lawrence, who teaches at Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School, is taking what she learned during her time with Henry into her classroom.

The Biogen Idec Foundation sponsored her Fellowship. Lawrence shares her experience below.

Which different departments did you have a chance to explore during your time at Biogen Idec?

A: I spent most of my time in the Quality Control Department. Through my time with this department, I had unique experiences in the Microbiology, Bioassay, Chemistry, Chemistry-Raw Materials, and Sample Control labs. I also had the chance to shadow the Technology Development Department and learn how the cells are prepared and purified to make the drug product. Finally, I spent some time in the manufacturing facility. It was an amazing experience watching the drug development process from start to finish.

How has this experience affected your teaching career?
A: How do you put into words the impact an experience like this has on you professionally?  Every day I walked through the halls of Biogen Idec I thought how blessed I have been by this externship. This Fellowship had me itching to get back into the classroom. The best part is I do not know how much my teaching career will change; it is too early to tell. However, I do know changes are already happening as I soak in every opportunity to grow and transform the way student learning takes place in my classroom.

What has been the most eye-opening experience during your time at Biogen Idec?
A: Bubbles are destructive. This might seem strange, but I have learned one small bubble in a bioreactor can have a large impact on the final product being produced.  Cells attach to the bubbles, and when the bubbles pop, so do the cells. The lysed cells can create problems when the purification process begins.

What new careers have you learned about that you want to share with your students?
A: I want my students to realize that science is for everyone.  Every person I met at Biogen Idec has a different story to tell.  They have different amounts of education, experiences, and interests.  I want to bring this to my classroom, in hopes that my students will see these different scientists and connect with them on some level, and start planning for their future.

How will you incorporate this experience into your classwork?
A: I have a gap in my classroom ─ a gap between what the students are learning and application to the real world.  Don’t get me wrong; I have my students learning all about scientists, job opportunities, and so on.  However, I have not taken the time to answer the “why do we need to know this?”

I have seen my entire 6th grade unit on matter in action, in a cutting edge biotechnology lab.  I can almost hear my students saying, “You mean scientist still use what they learned in the 6th grade?”  You bet they do. I want to consciously develop lessons and labs where students are performing real world tasks, while integrating the 6th grade curriculum.

When your students ask, what did you do last summer? How will you sum up your experience?
A: I stepped out of my teaching role and into the role of a student.  I spent the summer learning ─ learning science and how to be a better teacher.

*Photo by Randy Pinion: Erin Lawrence works in a lab at Biogen Idec with her mentor Enoc Henry.