By Carol Sturgulewski
The North Star Catholic
Faith in God, in science, and in the future is bringing a generous gift to Lumen Christi Catholic High School students.
The Anchorage school has received a $20,000 biotechnology grant from a private family foundation. The foundation made several gifts to programs in southern California this year, but Lumen Christi was the only Alaska recipient. The donors, who asked to remain anonymous, focus their giving largely on medical research and Catholic education. That’s a perfect fit for the Lumen Christi science department.
“We hope that at some point, a student who has benefited from this enhanced science lab and the passion of the teacher would go into medical research, or participate in some groundbreaking work on a disease or a cure,” a donor representative said. “We want to move the needle on suffering.”
Debbie Brewer, chair of Lumen Christi’s Department of Math and Science, is excited to provide her students with the latest biotech equipment and materials. “It’s another way to make a difference in life,” she says. “One of these kids might find a cure for some rare disease.”
The gift will also empower students who might not pursue a future in science, she adds. Her students often hear and read about issues such as stem cell research and genetic modification, and it’s important they understand them, Brewer says. Once they know why and how certain scientific techniques are used, young people can make informed, data-driven decisions about ethical choices and, eventually, how to vote.
In broad terms, biotechnology uses genetics and biology to solve scientific problems, altering genetic strains to perform tasks such as learning how antibodies fight cancer cells, or how bacteria can clean up an oil spill. Brewer has used some biotechnology projects in previous science classes, but the equipment is expensive. And although Alaskan students often have good access to community resources in engineering and resource development, the local pool is smaller for biotechnology offerings.
Lumen Christi plans to use the $20,000 grant to increase biotech projects in its grades 7-12 science classes this year, from junior high life science to biology and chemistry.
Brewer hopes to create a stand-alone biotechnology class for next year. Brewer, who has been at the school since its inception in 1996, has a history of creating innovative science programs. One of her most popular classes is forensic science, which culminates in a role-playing project in which most of the school helps (or hinders) a staged crime, which is solved using real-life detection procedures and tools such as DNA and fingerprint analysis. Brewer has also led forensic science camps for the Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers, and has done research with the University of Alaska Anchorage as a Murdock Charitable Trust Partner in Science.
Programs like those “bring real-life science into a student’s world,” and may encourage more students to go into the field, Brewer notes. With the addition of the new biotechnology grant, “Lumen students are poised to become the next generation of problem solvers incorporating ethical perspectives,” she says.
Lumen Christi Principal Brian Ross adds, “We are both humbled and proud to have been selected for this generous award. We know our students will benefit with authentic experiences that will prepare them for careers of the future.”