Celebrating Science Carlmont's Biotechnology Institute: A Parent & Community Newsletter

a note from the editor

Volume 3 Issue 2

Whew! Can you believe it has been almost a year since Covid reared its viral head and has impacted virtually everyone around the world? It has been challenging, chaotic, and life altering, no doubt about it, but we pivot and persist. And now, more than ever, the pursuit of science has taken center stage, as scientists around the world seek understanding and solutions to this pandemic. What a time to be a scientist, and what a time for our BTI students to be studying the very foundational principles of how a teeny tiny virus can stop us in our tracks. The relevance of Carlmont’s Biotechnology Institute has never been stronger. It continues to be a holistic program that helps shape young people’s mind to both learn and explore the possibilities of what can be through rigor and curiosity. It connects the dots between scientific understanding and innovation, its historical placement and cultural milieu, and how to analyze the ethics and social impact of new biotech innovations.

Our BTI teens are very fortunate to be a part of this program, focused on learning the principles and possibilities of biotechnology. This edition is chock full of information of what each class has been learning and accomplishing during their virtual year of learning. It also includes the juniors’ thoughts on what it is like to be a member of the BTI community and how that has helped them navigate remote learning. And as usual, there are tons of photos, albeit many of them Zoom photos, which bring their BTI experience to life. Enjoy. Our next issue will feature BTI alumni and what some of them have been up to in college. Let’s just say BTI was just the beginning of their journeys. Be diligent and stay safe! :-)

BTI Applications are due 2/23/21! HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!

If you know any freshmen science enthusiasts who would be interested in joining BTI during the fall of 2021-2022 school year, please send them to the application page of the BTI website. Applications are due on Tuesday, February 23!

Meet the bti juniors

BTI juniors start the spring semester skilled and ready to take their cross-curricular education and access to biotech professionals to the next level. While the BTI curriculum did pivot and adjust to remote learning, the junior curriculum is as strong as ever. Armed with advanced lab skills honed during their sophomore year, BTI juniors are able to work independently on their advanced science labs at home and continue to benefit from a robust interdisciplinary-curriculum and tight learning community that BTI provides. In addition, BTI juniors are assigned a semester-long one-on-one mentor where they are able to build professional skills and obtain an in depth view into the professional world.

A day in the life of a bti junior

biotech 4 - Ms. Abdilla

Biotechnology 3-4 is a dual credit course where juniors earn both high school and college credit! This semester Biotechnology 4 is going to be studying bacteria, viruses, and COVID. Students just completed a unit looking at the structure and function of DNA and they tested different ways DNA could be extracted from wheat germ. We moved on to a little “MacGyver” biotechnology where students built their own gel electrophoresis units using wire and batteries that were taped together. How cool is that? Students will look at the differences between bacteria and viruses later this semester, how ELISA testing can be used to identify viruses, and finally, juniors will be looking at the impact of Biotechnology on the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. Relevant and amazing curriculum!

chemistry for biotech - mr. engberg

BTI Juniors take Chemistry for Biotech, a chemistry class designed for BTI students, where the chemistry curriculum is modified to perform more advanced project-based labs due to their lab skills training. Students in Chemistry for Biotech are working on chemical reactions, equations, and calculations this semester. Students picked up their lab kits for second semester, which include a 1 quart bottle of vinegar and a 1 pound box of baking soda, electronic mini scale, pH paper, and other simple lab measurement tools. A wide variety of home lab activities will be performed using these simple and safe acid/base compounds.

us history - ms. moyihan

Currently BTI juniors are wrapping up a unit on the Great Depression/New Deal. Students recently completed a small, in-class project exploring how various New Deal acts, legislation, and programs impacted the Bay Area. Projects like street repairs in San Francisco, the Pulgas Water Temple, the Lyon approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Caldecott Tunnel, Sequoia Hospital, Memorial Park in San Mateo County near La Honda, and numerous other projects were completed under FDR’s New Deal Legislation. Our next unit will be about the U.S. home-front and involvement in WWII. As we progress through history, students will continue to engage in civil discussions on controversial topics, both past and present, such as the events that occurred on January 6th of this year. We will also continue to examine primary source accounts to analyze the lives and times of the history we study. Parents, you can see how relevant and compelling content can bring a subject matter to life!

English III - Ms. Gold

Now in their second year with Ms. Gold's exceptional English class, BTI juniors hit the ground running. They began the semester working on resumes, which their mentors will review. They also wrote elevator pitch scripts for the field of biotechnology. They have just started reading Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic novel, Oryx and Crake. Years ago, BTI selected this book to be a part of the English curriculum because it is, in part, a cautionary tale about what could go wrong if biotechnology were to get into the wrong hands. The book has never been more relevant, however, as the story begins after a global pandemic has wiped out civilization. Humm... not so science fiction anymore! Later in the spring, students will be writing fiction of their own. How fun is that?

Discussing Oryx and Crake during 6th period

BTI mentoring Goes Remote!

faith velschow

Imagine your teens having a year long relationship with a mentor in their field of interest. Imagine them being able to develop professional skills such as how to communicate in the professional world, how to develop a compelling resume, and what it is like to work day to day in a particular career. That is why Carlmont's BTI mentor program is one of the highlights of the BTI experience. The Biotech Mentoring Program kicked off on January 27th with over 50 professional mentors meeting with their mentees over Zoom. Mirroring the school day with remote interactions, the mentor program will still strive to meet its goals of developing students' professional communication skills whether in email, on the phone, or over Zoom, and allow students to explore careers in an area that they are interested in. Running from January through May, the key deliverables will include student elevator pitches about their mentors' careers, SMART goals, resumes, and mock interviews.

Thank you to all of the amazing professionals volunteering their time and expertise to share with our BTI students! You make a difference in our teen's lives!

Meet Some of our mentors

virtual field trip to cytomx

BTI juniors and seniors took a virtual trip to CytomX Therapeutics, a biotech company in South San Francisco whose mission is to revolutionize the way we treat cancer. CytomX hosts gave an overview of the science of cancer and how their company is developing conditionally-active antibody therapeutics known as Probody® Therapeutics for treatment. After the presentation, there was a lively Q&A, followed by a video tour of their offices and labs. Students then got to be in intimate breakout rooms to hear about the career paths of two CytomX staff. CytomX has been generously hosting BTI students since the program launched, and they sure found a way to deliver a dynamic experience even if the students couldn't be there in person this year.

juniors' thoughts on bti

What would you say to a student who is considering joining BTI?

  • With shelter in place, it has been amazing to have a school community and biotechnology is amazing to learn! - JB
  • BTI is a great space where tons of other science interested students are in a lot of the same classes with you and you can grow as a family and learn at the same time. The main drawback is maybe not taking as many 5 pt classes as you want, but honestly that doesn't matter with the amount of experience you get which colleges like just as much if not more. - NH
  • I would say if they have any inclination towards joining that they absolutely should! It's a unique experience and my favorite part is the community formed. You're in an institute full of your fellow students who have the same will to learn as well as the same interests which makes school much more enjoyable everyday. Plus, you become very close with your teachers and they're easy to talk to. - AIB
  • BTI is both a fun and engaging program that allows you to get a more broad perspective when it comes to science. By having 3 BTI classes (History, English, Biotech) instead of just the science class, you can see how science affects other aspects of society. By staying with the same few people for three years it's also a more comfortable school environment, depending on who's in your class. - ML
  • I would tell them that BTI is not a set of classes determined by interest but more of a community of teachers and students special to BTI where you can bond with your classmates and get to know them for the next three years. Although it may seem strange at first, you will start to make friends, and by the third year, you will find lifelong friends that you wouldn't have made otherwise. - TK
  • I would say to definitely go for it. BTI was one of the best academic decisions I've ever made. I was a bit hesitant about joining (I didn't plan on it at first and instead joined last minute) because I didn't think I was "science-minded" enough, but after spending the last couple of school years in BTI, I've realized there's a place for many different people with various interests and goals in BTI. I highly recommend it. - LF
  • BTI is a good way to distinguish yourself from all of the other college applicants in your grade, as it is a small program that teaches skills not found in the rest of Carlmont. - AB
  • Don't worry about the lack of APs and advanced classes. BTI has its own curriculum and rigor that make up for not being in those classes. - GC
  • The BTI community may be different than clubs you are in now, it's an experience, a unique opportunity, with different sets of goals. There are weekly activities in turn are very interesting and enjoyable, the teachers are really nice too. - NJ

one positive DISTANCE LEARNING experience from BTI

  • Socials and doing things like resume writing as well as the mentor program have been fun - JB
  • BTI has been very accommodating for any tech issues and struggles that students may have. The teachers of BTI are understanding when it comes to those things. - ML
  • In distance learning, BTI maintained a sort of community-driven feel with the BTI meeting nights on Thursdays, and honestly, it didn't feel like I was missing out on anything if we were still in school. - TK
  • The labs! I was scare that we would unable to do labs this semester due to covid, but I was pleasantly surprised when we got to do labs. Although, almost all my labs failed, I still had a blast setting them up. - AT
  • I really enjoy the fact that we are still able to do labs even with distance-learning, especially since they were one of my favorite parts of in-person learning. It also feels nice doing it independently on your own time. - LF
  • English - a small mindfulness break at the start of class, to detach yourself mentally temporarily in order to regain sanity during the schooldays. - AB
  • I liked being able to do labs at my own pace without feeling rushed. I also enjoyed growing and caring for my biotech plants at home. - AL
  • A positive of distance learning was meeting a small handful of the mentors in our history classes. It made me even more excited to meet my own mentor and learn from them. - MK
  • We get to do a lot of labs at home which have been really fun and interesting. - IP
  • Coming to school to get lab kits and seeing teachers and friends. - AD

In what ways has BTI made distance learning more manageable or less stressful?

  • BTI has provided tools for learning, specifically English and Biotech, so that we continue to do similar labs and such which makes school less stressful because it feels more normal. - AIB
  • BTI's close knit community has given me a good support system. I am not afraid to reach out to my peers and teachers because I am familiar with them and feel comfortable talking to them. - AT
  • Since all the BTI classes communicate with each other, I feel the teachers have a better understanding of what is actually a manageable task for students to complete in a limited amount of time. - AI
  • All of the teachers in BTI have been understanding about the current pandemic and make sure that students are not feeling overwhelmed. Also by providing BTI movie/game nights, BTI has been able to keep the sense of community intact even though we are all at home. - CL
  • In general, BTI classes assign less work than other classes. The work that is assigned also feels more relevant, useful, and interesting than work from other classes. - AL
  • Teachers have been nice about giving extensions of necessity and letting us know that we have support. - VC
  • The community is very supportive, it's flexible, and the BTI community is human too, they are going through hardship as well. - NJ

BTI sophomores - Making a difference

Almost everyone has a cancer story. Whether they lost a friend to it, watched a family member fight it, or took on the disease themselves, cancer has touched almost every person in the world. Two BTI sophomores are no different. After knowing many with the disease and spending years standing in its wake, they have decided to join the fight. They were recently nominated by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to create and run their own 7-week fundraiser while competing against other students across the nation to raise as much money as possible. This program teaches students a variety of life skills all while working toward a great cause, and they are searching for as many people as possible to offer their support. At the end of their campaign, all funds will go toward the three missions of LLS: Research (Searching for and finding new, innovative cancer treatments), Education & Support (Helping to improve the quality-of-life of cancer patients), and Advocacy (Public outreach and government lobbying to improve awareness about LLS).

If you want to get involved and help support these BTI sophomores in their fight against blood cancer, please go directly to their website to donate. They thank you in advance for your support and willingness to help them with this great cause.

A Day in the life of a BTI sophomore

biotech 2 - Ms. burndon

This unit we are focusing on proteins and their many uses in Biotechnology. We are investigating enzymes in human saliva through the Amylase Lab and how enzymes can be used in industry through the Apple Juice Production Lab. Next, we will be delving into the amazing world of antibodies and how they can be used for everything from COVID-19 treatments to our simulated allergy test lab. We will round out the unit with a home lab to practice complex protein concentration analysis, before moving on to DNA and genetic engineering.

Modern European history (MEH) - Ms. Moynihan

This semester the MEH classes are focusing on Europe in the 20th century. They are just wrapping up a survey of WWI and will then move into the interwar years and rise of totalitarian dictators before moving into WWII, followed by a look into the Cold War era and the weapons and technology that was employed and ultimately changed the world for the 21st century. Students will end the semester with a research project where they will choose a technology or discovery made over the course of this semester’s content and explore how the initial invention/discovery evolved over the course of the 20th century and how it has impacted life then as well as today.

English II - Ms. Gold

BTI English II students are currently preparing an informational presentation about an application of biotechnology that they have chosen to research. Next quarter, they will read Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World, which tells the story of a future dystopia that uses genetic engineering to manufacture and control its citizens.


Last semester all BT students completed at least five labs at home. With the help of the BTI student and parent community we were again able to provide ALL biotech students the opportunity to complete labs at home. We are so grateful for the families who committed so much time and effort to measuring reagents and building kits for our students. Without your help, at home lab kits would not have been possible for semester 2. Here are some photos of our awesome BTI community measuring reagents and building kits.

Thank you so much for your help and ongoing support!


biomANUFACTURING - ms. burdon

This semester, students are researching, developing, and manufacturing their own capstone Biotech products. We are starting the semester with sample projects, and students have so far made a lotion with an enzyme extracted from pineapple and gummy vitamins with zinc from beets. The next phase is R&D to refine their own product ideas and make a test batch, before manufacturing, testing, and packaging their products.

Ms. Manuel - government/economics

This semester we are doing a survey of several economic concepts through project-based learning in five brief thematic units including microeconomics, macroeconomics, a case study of a biotech company, personal finance and selling/marketing their bio-manufacturing product. Students will conclude the semester by displaying their product market savvy in a “Shark Tank” style sales pitch. The objective is to seek potential (fake) investors for the product they developed in their bio-manufacturing class. Super cool!

Government project by T.G.

virtual field trip to the federal reserve of sf

In December our BTI senior cohort was honored to receive a personal virtual tour of the Federal Reserve of San Francisco. This tour served as a great introduction to their spring semester of economics. Students learned about the history of banking and the role of the Federal Reserve in helping regulate the money supply. Thank you for organizing this special opportunity, Ms. Manuel!

virtual tour BTI seniors

English IV - Mr. Fabic

Students develop essay writing skills in conjunction with text-based curriculum. Activities include creative projects, group discussions and presentations, and daily reading and writing activities. Texts center around themes of biotechnology and dystopian societies that carry lessons from the past and future implications. This year's texts include Brave New World, Bad Blood, Jurassic Park, and 1984.

building BTI community - building bti family

Zoom-filled social events

As you may have noticed from the quotes by BTI juniors (above section), one of the dominant themes of what BTI means to them and how BTI has helped them cope with remote learning is "community" and "family." Over the years, as we gather personal reflections of the BTI program from our students, "community" is a consistent, most-valued part of what it means to be in the BTI program. During this time of the covid pandemic, the value of feeling connected to a community is more important than ever, as the isolation of home quarantining can cause undo stress and anxiety on our teens. True to form, our BTI directors, Ms. Gold and Ms. Abdilla have continued the tradition of hosting a monthly social for all BTI students. So let's take a Zoom-view and see what they have been up to!

Oct - Halloween Movie Night - Scooby Doo
Nov - Among Us
Nov - Among Us
Dec - Movie Night - Elf (Best movie ever)
Jan - Pictionary
Jan - Among Us

Building Parent Community

Parents... Come one, come all! While our parent Mix and Mingle events have been tabled this year, feel free to reach out and connect anyway and become involved in this amazing BTI community. It is truly a great group, and we would love to welcome your participation. Just a few ideas of what we are up to...


How you can help

The BTI Program has been so successful over the past five years because of its unique combination of dedicated teachers, committed students, engaged parents, and a supportive biotech community. So thank you!

Join our parent/teacher Development Committee

We would love to have you participate in our development committee that meets once a month and provides various levels of support to the BTI directors and the program in general. Our focus is in helping with fundraising, the newsletter, coodinating MailChimp communications, & social media marketing. It is a low level of commitment that makes a big impact, and it is an excellent way to get to know the BTI directors and other BTI parents by becoming involved behind the scenes in your teen's BTI program. If you are interested, send an email to Faith Velschow, Director of Mentoring and Career Services, fvelschow@seq.org. Looking forward to meeting you!

Financial support- Setting our goal for 2020-2021

Please donate to caf to support the bti program and other vital Carlmont programs

A fully funded BTI program requires $150,000 per year. Fortunately, Sequoia Union High School District provides at least half that amount every year. The rest is raised by corporate donations, grants and contributions by BTI parents through CAF. By meeting the goal of our fundraising, BTI is able to fund our desired two sections of dedicated BTI Biotech 3-4 which means that BTI juniors have their own Biotech 3-4 classes and unique curriculum. Non-BTI students attend their own sections of Biotech 3-4. Additionally, BTI funds field trips to biotech companies and science museums, costs associated with the symposium and mentor breakfast, equipment and supplies as needed, and a senior outing and graduation celebration.

This year, BTI budgetary needs are reduced due to distance learning. However, our goal is to raise $25,000 from parents so that next year BTI can continue to offer BTI-only sections of Biotech 3-4. So please consider donating to CAF and allocating a part of that donation directly to BTI. We are very fortunate to partner with CAF, that not only supports BTI, but also supports many of Carlmont's extraordinary class offerings and other needs in order to provide a quality education at Carlmont High School.


Another idea to reach our BTI fund raising goal is to check with your employer to see if they do donation matching. If you are planning on donating, this is an easy way to double the donation.

Contact Information

  • Directors of BTI: Ms. Abdilla at jabdilla@seq.org and Ms. Gold at sgold@seq.org
  • Faith Velschow - Director of Mentoring and Career Services: fvelschow@seq.org 650-464-1162
  • Kevin Marks – President of the BTI Development Committee: kevin.marks@roche.com
  • Newsletter Editor -Cheryl Shelmadine - service@copyteclegal.com
  • Senior Parent Class Rep - Jennifer Douglis - jdouglis@smfc.k12.ca.us
  • Junior Parent Class Rep - Jennifer della Gatta - jennifer@sfdays.com
  • Sophomore Parent Class Rep - Laura Bierwagen - laurabierwagen@comcast.net

Go bti scots