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.”