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National grant key to facility

WORTHINGTON -- Whether they help middle school and high school students develop an appreciation for science, or teach them the skills to one day work in a laboratory, those behind an initiative to complete the bioscience training and testing center in Worthington have two goals in mind -- to build a science-minded workforce and the jobs to go along with it.

Last month, the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp., along with Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Newport Laboratories and other partners completed a request to the National Science Foundation for a $900,000 Advanced Technological Education grant.

The money, sought in three installments over three years, would help fund curriculum development for the Bio-STAR (Bio-Sciences, Technician and Agricultural Revitalization) program.

The curriculum would be developed for the Bioscience Advancement Center, located on Prairie Drive in Worthington.

Tracy Oleson, of Newport Laboratories, said if Bio-STAR is awarded the grant -- NSF will announce recipients in March -- programming wouldn't begin until August 2012.

"From the industry's perspective ... there is a lack of a trained workforce," said Oleson. "For bioscience to grow in this area, we have to have a workforce. I don't think students realize the opportunities that are in their own back yard -- there are really cool science opportunities."

Oleson has worked for Newport Laboratories for nearly 11 years, and spends a considerable amount of her time training new lab technicians to work there. In addition, she previously assisted with curriculum development for the biotech program at Minnesota West and teaches a microbiology course at the college.

Once the community research laboratory in the Bioscience Advancement Center is completely developed, Oleson will transition from her job at Newport Laboratories to the center. In the post, she will work with educational institutions, write grants and help develop opportunities for the three incubator bays inside the facility.

The bays -- one is 5,000 square feet and the other two are 3,309 square feet -- are located in the north portion of the center, which was constructed in 2006 as a spec building for bioscience-related businesses.

"I will have the key position of bringing together and coordinating all of the entities who develop the Bio-STAR programs, from middle school through four-year college," Oleson said. "I will help coordinate internships, ensure the Bio-STAR program is a fit and have the opportunity to teach and work with the students."

With well-established science clubs in the Worthington School District, Oleson said she will build off that strength and work to increase it at the high school level.

Glenn Thuringer, WREDC manager, said the Bio-STAR program will concentrate on bioscience related to the animal industry. With Newport Laboratories and Intervet both located in Worthington, the goal is to capitalize on local experience.

"We are designing a team program that responds to industry needs," added Oleson. As part of the grant request, she said the first year will be spent surveying the regional industry and incorporating some of the needs into the curriculum.

As for building connections with educational institutions, Thuringer said Minnesota West has already signed articulation agreements with South Dakota State University, Southwest Minnesota State University and Minnesota State University-Mankato, in which credits earned from Minnesota West will transfer.

"We are now asking the four-year institutions to have more of these classes taught here, either at Minnesota West or the Bioscience Advancement Center," Thuringer said. "We want the students to come out of Minnesota West and get a job.

"If we were to wrap this around our science clubs in ninth through 12th grades, perhaps our science club could be a tutoring mechanism if these students wanted to take college courses," he added. "If they did one class each year, they could have four classes in before they graduate. The classes would be free of charge."

Tami Goetz, a former science advisor at Salt Lake City Community College who now works with the Governor's office in Utah, and a past presenter at Worthington's Bioscience Conference, provided advice during the grant writing process for the Bio-STAR program.

Goetz helped secure an NSF grant to create student models for Inova-Bio and business incubator trainings in Salt Lake City.

"Having created these models in the last 10 years is probably the biggest contribution I make (to the Bio-STAR grant request)," Goetz said. "I had a chance to (relay) all the insight to Glenn and his team -- things that worked, things that didn't work. You need to make sure you have a good blend of high school and college students.

"The grant they've put in from Worthington is the evolution of five years of ideas and thoughts," she added.

Thuringer said the work they put into developing the Bio-STAR program could easily be duplicated in another region of the country, or even next door.

"It's structured so neighboring communities can take part in this and attach it to their system," he said. "I think there's things they could learn and take from this."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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