Richard T. Tulley, Schultz, Bruce | 7/16/2005 2:21:36 AM
BATON ROUGE – The Biotechnology Education for Students and Teachers (BEST) program opened doors for Ashley Venters – although it might inadvertently close one as well.
Venters spent several weeks this summer being exposed to advanced techniques of biology at the LSU AgCenter’s Embryo Biotechnology Laboratory at St. Gabriel. One of the things she found out was that forensic science, which she thought she might want to pursue, isn’t the glamour profession portrayed on television programs like "CSI."
That didn’t dampen her spirits, however, since the 16-year-old said she’s still leaning toward studying research in college as a result of her experience this summer. "Probably molecular biology," she said matter-of-factly.
Venters, who will be a junior at Lafayette High School this fall, enrolled in the BEST program, as it’s known, with her biology teacher, Patricia Colbert-Cormier. They were one of six student-teacher pairs from across the state chosen to participate in the LSU AgCenter program that’s designed to raise the level of science education in Louisiana and prepare the state’s youth to become the researchers society needs for a prosperous future.
Venters said the DNA work she was involved with in the BEST program fits with what she wants to study later on.
"When I go to college, this is more of what I want to do," she said toward the end of her six weeks of involvement in the BEST program, which concluded this week (July 14).
The project assigned to Venters and Colbert-Cormier was to assist in the quest to find the gene that could impart parasite resistance to the Cracker breed of cattle in Florida.
Their part of the project involved running gel electropheresis to determine if enough DNA from the Cracker cattle was present in samples to conduct further testing.
Ashley said the work wasn’t complicated. "You learn the form, and you learn the process," she said, adding, however that things don’t always turn out as planned.
"We tried this four times this weekend before we got it right," she said while hunched over her work.
Colbert-Cormier said many of her students, including Venters, have good grades, but she nominated Venters for BEST because the youngster has the making of a dedicated scientist.
"I knew she would be like a sponge here and pick up on everything," Colbert-Cormier said.
As part of their experiences, Venters and Colbert-Cormier also toured the Louisiana State Police forensics lab, and Venters was disappointed that the lab workers there seemed to be occupied with tedious work and not crime-solving dramatics shown on TV. She admits that eye-opener may have been enough to make her rethink a forensics career.
As for BEST, Colbert-Cormier said she was attracted to the program because it offered participation in ongoing research.
"This is a real project. This is real work," said Colbert-Cormier.
The teacher said she also learned from the experience and that will benefit her as a teacher.
"I hadn’t actually seen a clone," Colbert-Cormier said. "You look at a Petri dish and you see a speck and realize they were able to take that and make a four-legged animal. It’s amazing.
"We’ve put in some long hours, but we’ve enjoyed it," Colbert-Cormier said.
The student-teacher pair from Lafayette also got to work alongside two doctoral students, Carlos Guerrero and Angelica Giraldi, both from Colombia, South America.
Venters said the experience broadened her scientific horizons.
"It’s really vast, and there’s always something else to discover," she said, adding that she hopes to add to scientific discoveries. "I hope …to help someone someday."
The Biotechnology Education for Students and Teachers – the BEST program – was established in 2001 with a $2.5 million donation from the Gordon A. Cain Foundation.
Other student-teacher pairs who participated in the program this summer were Valerie Traylor and Patricia Beaudion from Natchitoches High School; Priscilla LaCoste and Mary Macklin, Berwick High School; Shannon Berryhill and Linda Messina, St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge; David Hinds and Joseph Wood, Ouachita Christian School in Monroe; and Huong Pham and Crystal Williams, Broadmoor High School in Baton Rougee.