Nurturing new generations of scientists and new generations of breakthroughs is a focus of Iowa State University’s Destination 2050, a campus-wide effort to deploy the university’s resources and expertise to meet the challenges of a world of 9.6 billion people.

Cassie Krebill is well on her way toward a degree in animal science due in large part to rigorous high school science labs that were equipped and supported by Iowa State University. The Donnellson, Iowa, sophomore is among nearly 280,000 current and former students and 2,800 teachers whose middle schools or high schools have received free use of equipment, supplies, and training from Iowa State’s Biotechnology Outreach Education program.

It allows high school and middle school students to conduct hands-on experiments in DNA fingerprinting, transforming antibiotic-resistant genes into bacteria, or as many as 27 other bioscience lab protocols similar to experiments they can expect in college or industry.

“I really believe that when you touch something, you learn it better,” said Mike Zeller, the program’s coordinator.

True to Iowa State University’s land-grant mission, the outreach program provides training for middle school and high school science teachers, as well as Iowa State students who plan to teach elementary and secondary science classes. Participating teachers are eligible to use Iowa State equipment and obtain laboratory supplies at no cost. The program also conducts laboratory sessions in school settings or at the fully equipped Biotechnology Learning Center on the Iowa State University campus.

“It’s been a blessing for us to get kids interested in biotechnology,” said Chris Siewert, biotechnology teacher at Johnston High School. “I’m trying to get them to be more like a research scientist – what they would go through at some point all the way up to a PhD, these are the basic skills they would be going through.”

Krebill said the equipment, supplies, and training Iowa State provided to teachers at Central Lee High School have helped her succeed at the college level.

“With other classes, you just kind of read it out of a book. But in biotechnology, we really tried to immerse ourselves in the science community and get those hands-on experiences you don’t get in every class,” Krebill added. “It prepared me for college in a lot of different ways.”

Iowa State’s approach also is impacting biotechnology outreach education across the country. Educators from 14 states, including Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wisconsin have attended workshops to boost the biotech know-how of their students.