The Scientist tells about North Carolina’s success promoting its biotech industry. Commercial success didn’t come quickly. Obviously:
The state’s educational institutions, from community colleges to research universities, also play a seminal role in North Carolina’s success in biotechnology. For one thing, these institutions provide professional-level academic programs in biotechnology and related fields.
“Various state universities also train students specifically for careers in biotechnology. For example, NCSU offers an undergraduate minor in biotechnology, as well as a graduate certificate program in molecular biotechnology. These programs also focus on the future. ? Catherine Hicks, the director of life science ventures at UNC’s Charlotte Research Institute, says, “Within the next 25 years, biotechnology and related bioscience technologies are projected to generate up to $24 billion in annual product sales and employ as many as 125,000 people in North Carolina.” Those numbers emphasize the value of North Carolina’s biotech future.
Sending kids to those biotech degree programs requires good public schools, and the North Carolina science standards are considered among the very best in the nation. That’s no accident. A commitment to a biotech future means maintaining good science education for a full 12 years, to bring kids all the way through the educational system with the training they need for the college programs. Former governor James Martin explains:
Though Martin is a former chemistry professor with a PhD from Princeton, supporting biotechnology wasn’t about promoting science for science’s sake. “It was about creating better jobs for our people,” Martin says. For instance, Martin supported programs to improve elementary and secondary education. “It’s not enough to provide doctoral research programs,” he says from his office in Charlotte, where he is now the chief executive officer of Carolinas HealthCare. “You’ve got to bring along your population so that people are prepared to take that higher-education step and prepared to benefit from training for the technical jobs.”
North Carolina has been building that educational pipeline for decades, and it’s paying off. That long term effort makes Kansas’s Bioscience Authority and similar one-off programs look like the stunts they are. And it is a cautionary tale to states like Florida and Texas, where science standards are currently under assault. Both states earned Fs for their state science standards in a 2005 assessment, and both are in the process of producing the standards which will guide the education of tomorrow’s doctors, researchers and biotech professors.
Florida is putting the finishing touches on a new draft of their standards, and national experts I’ve spoken with say that drafts they’ve seen indicate that the final draft will be among the best standards in the nation. An earlier draft was scored on the same criteria used in 2005, and came in one point below an A. With the changes made last week, the standards are a solid A, laying the first stages of the pipeline to a biotech future for Florida. For that, the state deserves praise.
Alas, one word in those standards could throw a wrench in the works. Where the old standards never use the word “evolution,” the word and the idea are used throughout the new standards from the earliest grades up to high school. That is appropriate and necessary, but people are getting worked up over it, and it isn’t clear what the state Board of Education is going to do about it. Two of seven members (all members were appointed by Jeb Bush) have expressed a desire to mess with their expert writing committee’s good work, as have as many as 12 county school boards.
This is the time for people of good will to get involved. As the example of North Carolina shows, decisions made now will affect the Florida economy for decades. A bad choice by the Board will put Florida in the media spotlight usually reserved for Kansas creationists, while a wise decision could give the Sunshine state a bright future. People of good will should get in touch with the Board (contact information here) and tell them to pass the standards as written by the experts they chose. If it doesn’t convince them when you tell them that their children will thank them, remind them that their children will be this generation’s doctors, and will be producing the medicines those doctors will be prescribing.