Biotechnology educator creates ecosystem of science education and industry partnerships

Since its start in 2016, the JCERT-supported KU Edwards Campus biotechnology undergraduate program has built strong relationships with students, educators and employers.

Jack Treml addresses his biotechnology class at the KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park

Jack Treml was getting his Ph.D. in immunology when he first considered entering education.

“I began tutoring, and that got me really interested in teaching as a profession,” Treml, the assistant director of the JCERT-supported biotechnology program at the KU Edwards Campus, said. “When the opportunity arose to come to the Edwards Campus and teach biotechnology and design the program, I was really excited because it put together all my interests into one.”

Treml and Randall Logan started the Edwards Campus’ biotechnology program in 2016. Since that time, the program has grown exponentially, expanding the number of students it serves as well as building valuable partnerships with area schools and employers.

“Our program has grown extensively from when we started with four students,” Treml said. “We’re constantly revising how we teach our classes and focusing them more and more to what we see as the best outcome. We try to take a scientific approach to our teaching, where we see what works and we try to repeat that, and we get rid of what doesn’t work.”

An important part of the program from the very beginning was developing teaching content that was relevant to the needs of local industry, and developing a pipeline that would help undergraduate students quickly enter the workforce after graduation.

“We immediately went to talk with industry and we wanted to know what jobs were available in the area,” Treml said, “so we could tailor our program not just to teach the general topic of biotechnology, but to try to specifically be the best biotech education you could get here, for jobs that exist here when you graduate.”

In the five years since the biotechnology program’s inception, that approach has helped students get valuable internships, many of which Treml says turn into jobs upon graduation. “It serves as an extended job interview for our students,” he said. “We lean heavily into our relationship with industry to serve as a conduit so that our students can learn within the industry while they’re in our program, learn from our program, graduate, and then possibly go back into the same employment situation that they left from their internship.”

Logan says that in addition to establishing successful area partnerships, Treml’s teaching is equally responsible for producing so many successful students. “Jack brings a wealth of academic and industry experience to the program and he seamlessly integrates this into the biotech curriculum,” Logan said. “Jack ensures students graduate with relevant skills, knowledge, and experiences that will make them highly successful. This leads our graduates to be incredibly well positioned for graduate school or entry-level careers.”

Another important outreach element of the biotechnology program is partnering with area high schools on events such as Biotech Day, during which high school students get to interact with current seniors in the biotechnology program and learn about their research projects. Students can sign up to become research apprentices and assist with elements of the undergraduate students’ capstone projects.

Treml – a member of the 2021 Public Scholars Group – says these outreach initiatives are part of building what he calls an “ecosystem of science” that encourages a new generation of scientists. “We grab the interests of young scientists in junior high or high school and try to keep them involved with science through their entire path until they could possibly come and be our student, and we keep track of them beyond that as well.”

Logan says this approach has resulted in many of these same students eventually coming to the Edwards Campus to complete their undergraduate studies. “Jack has inspired many students to pursue a career in science and join the biotech program a result of his efforts,” Logan said.

By generating student interest early on and fostering that interest throughout the undergraduate experience and into an actual career, Treml says the biotechnology program produces graduates who enter the workforce seamlessly. “What I’m most proud of are the graduates that we’ve produced going out to companies where I know the CEO or the Chief Scientific Officer of the company,” Treml said. “Months later, after a student has left us and gone to that company, those industry leaders come to me specifically to talk about how well prepared our students were when they showed up the first time. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

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