Harvard Extension School has awarded its annual Dean’s Prize for Outstanding ALM Thesis in Biotechnology to Alia Qatarneh, who has earned her master’s degree (ALM) in biotechnology from Harvard Extension School while working full-time for the Amgen Biotechnology Experience Program (ABE) and LabXchange, a Harvard-based platform that provides educational resources for students and teachers.
“I am incredibly excited and humbled to receive the Dean’s Prize for Outstanding ALM Thesis in Biotechnology for a few reasons,” says Qatarneh. “One, the biotech cohort is an outstanding one. The students of the program work in academia and industry, they have their bachelors and MDs. They are driven and accomplished, thus I know the theses of this year’s cohort are no different from the students who have written them.”
“My thesis, though full of bench work, is deeply rooted in science education,” she adds. “To not only get the green light from Biotech Program Director, Dr. Steven Denkin, to pursue a project with a novel connection to classroom science, but to receive the award for this work truly shows the institution’s appreciation for an interdisciplinary lens.”
For her thesis, Qatarneh developed a lab kit for high school students and teachers to learn about protein folding. “As virtually all fundamental processes for biological life are executed by proteins, the study of protein folding and folding kinetics is essential,” she says. “Through my thesis, I developed a low-resource module that explores the parameters of protein folding in an open, cell-free system, allowing for the study of protein synthesis and folding to go beyond the bench (namely the classroom and space).”
Her advisors at miniPCR plan to manufacture the kits and distribute them to K-12 classrooms where it can be put into action. They are even exploring the possibility of sending protein-folding kits to the International Space Station through a collaboration between miniPCR and Boeing.
Qatarneh’s ALM work in biotechnology dovetails with her role on the ABE and LabXchange teams. “As the Site Coordinator for the ABE Program and the Secondary School Implementation Coordinator for LabXchange, I’m kept quite busy,” she explains. “I’m running experiments in the Science Center, leading professional development for high school biology teachers in BioLabs, teaching micropipetting to high school students at East Boston High School, and training graduate students on how to teach in Northwest.”
Though balancing coursework with her ABE and LabXchange work was daunting at first, Qatarneh quickly found her footing and will continue her studies in the Learning and Teaching Master’s Program at Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) in the fall.
“I’d like to thank my director, Rob Lue, my LabXchange team members, and my Life Sciences Outreach family for supporting my career and academic trajectories,” Qatarneh says. “Without you, I would not be on this quest to better science education.”