EMBARKing on a new journey
By Shantana Stewart
May 23, 2023
Before the month ends, Sreehitha “Siri” Anugu will hold a life science lab assistant certificate in one hand and a high school diploma in the other.
The 18-year-old Parkway West High School senior, who was born in India, has dreamed of working in a science lab since she was a child.
Because of her participation in the EMBARK biotechnology program — a special dual credit and dual enrollment program that prepares high school students to earn a life science lab assistant (LSLA) certificate — Anugu is positioned to make that dream a reality.
And the dream come true is even sweeter. When Anugu walks across the stage to receive her certificate at St. Louis Community College’s Commencement Ceremony on May 21, she will do so as the first graduate of the EMBARK program.
EMBARK was created by St. Louis Community College (STLCC) and The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. The program officially started this spring.
“I am very excited to finish the last of my courses and graduate with an LSLA certificate. I didn’t think I could make much progress toward my career till well into college, but this experience has given me more confidence in my skills and knowledge to work in biotech in the future,” Anugu said.
“I know that most people in my school weren’t aware that you can take classes through the community college or work toward an LSLA certificate, so I feel incredibly lucky to have been given the opportunity.”
The LSLA certificate provides a pathway to entry-level biotechnology jobs.
It took careful planning for Anugu to juggle college, high school courses and activities simultaneously.
For example, instead of attending prom last month, Anugu dressed in an orange and green floral gown, took a photo with a friend, and then traded her dress for a stack of books, so she could study for exams and prepare for her career.
“I love how methodical lab work is. Each step has a reason, and everything has a logical order,” she said. “So far, my favorite lab has been gel electrophoresis, which is used to separate DNA by size. But it really surprised me how meticulous the process of recording all your research can be.”
The demanding schedule and sacrifice were worth it, Anugu said, so she could experience biotechnology firsthand.
“Reading about what biotechnology is and actually experiencing the work yourself are very different experiences, and I am glad to have had the chance to train and see if the area of study is actually what I wanted to go into,” Anugu said.
“I got to learn about the real-life applications of the theories I learned about in high school and have firsthand experience in how research and development progress in an actual lab. I feel less blind about going into my future job and feel a lot more prepared.”
A entry point
Keri Janssen, assistant professor of biological science, teaches Anugu in Bio 100, Introduction to Life Science Laboratory Skills. She describes Anugu as a great student who is highly motivated and driven.
“Even though she is the youngest person in the class, her peers will go to her for clarification and guidance when doing lab work. She has been a model student to kick off the EMBARK program,” Janssen said.
Janssen hopes to point more students to careers in biotechnology.
“My role as an educator is important not only to teach basic lab skills, but also to show students what potential career options they have,” Janssen said. “Many students do not see themselves working in a laboratory, so showing them that this type of career is accessible to them is significant,” she said.
“The LSLA certificate is designed to give anyone with an interest in biotechnology an entry point into this field. I love that EMBARK will allow even high schoolers the opportunity to explore biotechnology career pathways.”
Anugu learned about EMBARK during a high school presentation given by Erika Malone, coordinator of sponsored high school programs. Anugu’s only regret is that she didn’t enroll sooner.
“I wish I was aware of the opportunity my junior year, so I would have had more time to fulfill my required credits,” Anugu said. “The most difficult part was probably making my last two required courses fit with my already full school schedule, especially in the second semester of my senior year when my motivation to work would be at its all-time low.”
She will study biochemistry at Stony Brook University, in New York, this fall. After graduation, she hopes to work in pharmaceuticals or health diagnostics.
Always prepared, Anugu, with the assistance of STLCC staff, is in the early stages of an internship search.
“I’m still sending out resumes, but I hope to hear back soon.” she said.
This article originally appeared here.