Colorado’s economic growth, health innovation advancements, and the well-being of life sciences employees hinge on a skilled and diverse workforce. Recognizing the vital role of effective leadership in cultivating such talent, the Colorado BioScience Institute (The Institute) is dedicated to supporting leaders from all backgrounds through its leadership program offerings, such as the The Foundations of Leadership.
This course attracts participants eager to fuel significant breakthroughs within the ecosystem and strengthen the community through their own personal development. With a focus on emotional intelligence, feedback, team management, and cultivating exceptional leadership qualities, these growing leaders are prepared to excel in their careers and personal growth. 2023 participant and Director of Corporate Communication at Allosource, Colleen Kilkenny said “I started this course by looking to reinforce my leadership skills, but what I learned in this class was not only evaluating my leadership approach, but also the leadership styles that motivate me. This exponentially boosted my development at AlloSource and I am taking what I learned back to teach my team as well.” The course not only acknowledges the distinctive strengths of each leader but also emphasizes trust and team dynamics in a unique manner.
The Institute’s curriculum has proven rare and impactful. According to Brian Ogawa, a Hudson Certified Executive Coach, the leaders in each cohort shape the group’s exceptional and entirely distinct nature. In one session, a cohort comprised of many Founders and new CEOs gained invaluable skills to grow their emerging companies. In another, an entire company sent 30 employees, fostering an unparalleled sense of understanding and trust within their culture. This diversity in leadership constantly reinforces the ecosystem’s strength. The Spring 2023 cohort had the vast majority of participants self-identify as introverts, and therefore the course highlighted the significance of nurturing introverted leaders and their contributions to the Colorado life sciences community’s success.
The Colorado BioScience Institute’s commitment to developing and supporting the next generation of leaders is evident in the success of The Foundations of Leadership program. By empowering leaders from all walks of life the Institute ensures that the bioscience ecosystem remains vibrant and resilient, fostering a thriving future for Colorado’s life sciences sector.
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The Colorado BioScience Institute takes pride in celebrating student achievements in life sciences, including the recent Future of Life Sciences Award presented at the Colorado State Science and Engineering Fair. This award recognizes innovative projects and fosters a spirit of exploration and advancement in the field. Our 2023 Future of Life Sciences Award winner is Aditi Avinash, an 11th grader from Rock Canyon High School with herproject Model Validation and Preclinical Testing of Digestive Enzymes for Gluten Breakdown. Aditi is driven to conduct this research from having family and friends who suffer from celiac disease. “For the over 3 million Americans with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, living with caution and regulating every food is a daily struggle. With an urgent need to alleviate symptoms, my project seeks to find a solution. Inspired by a Biology class on enzymes, I aim to face the problem head-on and help those who suffer from gluten intolerance.,” described Aditi.
Aditi’s dedication, supported by her school and community, reflects her aspirations to pursue medicine and combine research with clinical empathy, ultimately making a positive impact on patient care. “What I love about the field of medicine is how diverse it is and how it would allow me to explore my many interests thoughtfully and carefully,” said Avinash.
As we celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of students at the Colorado State Science and Engineering Fair, we also recognize the power of a support network and guidance through community. The Future of Life Sciences Award is a testament to the collective dedication of the Colorado BioScience Institute and Colorado’s life sciences community to cultivate and diversify the state’s life sciences workforce, from classroom, to campus, to career.
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When Kiara Nieves-Braulio’s family moved to Colorado from Iowa, they got excited about the opportunity for Kiara to join the Pathways to Early College High Schools (P-TECH) program at Frederick High School. The program prepares students for a career in biotechnology manufacturing. Kiara joined P-TECH and is graduating in May 2023 with her high school diploma and an associate’s degree from Aims Community College.
Colorado BioScience Institute serves as company liaison for this innovative classroom program, which brings together the best elements of high school, college, and the professional world. AGC Biologics, Agilent Technologies, Corden Pharma, KBI Biopharma, and Tolmar provide mentorships, internships, and hands-on experiences for students.
Kiara excelled in her biology, sociology, and math classes. In-person experiences, site visits, and internships offered through the P-TECH program reinforced her love of science. A six-week internship exposed her to roles in quality control, quality assurance, and manufacturing, giving her a clear view of her potential career path.
“I was always interested in a career in science, but I never knew what it was like. Getting to see the QC role at AGC Biologics helped me realize I really enjoy this.”
While some graduating P-TECH students will enter Colorado’s life sciences workforce immediately following program completion, Kiara looks forward to continuing her science education. She will enter CU Boulder in the fall, planning to major in a STEM field.
Kiara says she values the hands-on experiences and professional connections she made through the P-TECH program. She’s also met some of her best friends and formed strong relationships with teachers and her school counselor, Amanda Fitzgerald.
“I appreciate the support of all of adults who have supported me and encouraged me to keep in touch.”
Biology teacher Shanna Atzmiller spent two summers in the RET Program, working at AlloSource in Centennial and at iC42 Clinical Research and Development on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
At the end of each externship, Shanna transitioned from the lab back into the classroom with new knowledge and insight She recognizes her RET experience as a vital contribution to both her students and Colorado’s need for a growing STEM workforce
“This program has given me the tools to teach my students relevant science skills that they would need in their future. I plan my lessons with a focus on science and engineering practices instead of a content focus. This allows me to weave the content in while building strong practices (skills) in my students.” Shanna said.
RET goes beyond classroom instruction to link industry contacts to teachers and students, providing STEM companies with a qualified pool of potential future employees.
“The scientists I worked with have an invested interest in creating a relationship with teachers and students so that one day they will get trained individuals at their companies. My students have gained more insight from the skills brought into the classroom and the connections that they can make through having industry partners talk with them.”
CU Denver and CU Anschutz,
“When it comes to building your career, focusing on graduating isn’t enough to lead to new opportunities,” says Odalis Castro.
As a first-generation college student, Colorado-born Odalis has practiced the art of relationship building to open doors to new experiences, including participating in the Colorado BioScience Institute’s Mentor Program.
From her first chemistry class in college, she knew that she was called to pursue STEM. Not knowing anyone in a STEM field or where to start, Odalis cold-called and emailed several labs to find one willing to let her work. Her outreach paid off when one lab offered her the chance to work alongside and shadow a scientist. She has since continued working on research and has published some of her work in scientific journals and presented at conferences.
Odalis saw the results of having a mentor from her first lab experience and explored participating in other mentor opportunities. During the fall and spring of 2020-2021, the Colorado BioScience Institute virtually held its annual Mentor Program, a facilitated program for Colorado undergraduate students to connect with and learn from life sciences professionals.
Her mentor, Michael Mestek, Ph.D., is the Director of U.S. Marketing at Medtronic, Patient Monitoring and a board member for the Colorado BioScience Institute. He brings a wide variety of experience to share with his mentees, which initially piqued her interest when selecting a mentor.
“I enjoy participating in the Institute’s Mentor Program because I get to play a role in the professional development of Colorado’s next generation of life sciences leaders. I enjoy sharing my career experiences with students and learning from them at the same time. I’m continually impressed by students like Odalis who proactively seek mentoring early in their careers and love hearing about their successes,” explained Mestek.
Abby Wright, Senior Director of Reimbursement at Biodesix, Inc., finds her job—negotiating with health plans to get the company’s tests covered—highly meaningful.
“My work makes our tests available to lung cancer patients who need them,” Wright says. “That can get them on the right treatment much faster than would otherwise be possible or spare them unnecessary worry. I can’t imagine a more rewarding career.”
Biodesix offers innovative, rapid blood-based tests that identify actionable lung tumor mutations, measure the immune response to lung tumors, and distinguish benign from potentially cancerous lung nodules, respectively.
“We present clinical data to Medicaid, Medicare, and major insurers showing that Biodesix’s tests improve outcomes and reduce the overall cost of care,” says Wright. “That can be really challenging because the treatment landscape and standards are always changing.”
In Wright’s six and a half years at Biodesix, she’s led the team that secured coverage for VeriStrat®, the proteomic immune response test, and oversaw the three-year planning and execution of bringing billing in-house, including the research to show that it would improve revenue.
She credits her success to a combination of her initiative—taking every opportunity to learn and contribute—and great mentors, both within the company and in the Colorado bioscience community.
“Biodesix’s involvement with CBSA has opened a lot of doors,” says Wright. “Through Colorado BioScience Institute’s Executive Leadership Program, I was assigned a mentor who has founded and run multiple biotech companies, and he and the program director have provided really insightful, constructive advice.”