At a time when Puerto Rico aspires to become a mega-center of biotechnology as part of a strategy to boost the socio-economic development of the country, more than 45 of high school students are already moving ahead. This is thanks to the 2014 Biotech Summer Camp, which is the result of an alliance of various private enterprises and the Center for Education and Research in Biotechnology and Agrobiotechnology (CEIBA) from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce.

Dr. Cariluz Santiago-Ortiz, director of CEIBA explains, “the purpose of the camp is to spark young people’s interest in the biotechnology sector with educational activities which include: conferences, bioinformatics and plant tissue culture workshops, bio-remediation experimentation, and molecular techniques. Its primary objective is that they understand the scope and impact of this sector and see it as a possible academic and/or professional career”.

The camp has a duration of four weeks and the attendees are high school students from the public school system in the southern area. The Camp has the sponsorship of Monsanto Caribe, DuPont Pionner, Dow AgroSciences and Puerto Rico Agricultural Biotechnology Industry Association (PRABIA). Besides attending workshops and conferences, students will visit the installations of the sponsors of the program. Among the participating schools are Elvira Colon School in Santa Isabel, Genaro Pautiño School and Rafael Lopez Landron School in Guayama, Carlos Colon Urban School and Stella Marquez High School in Salinas.

Eric Torres, general manager of Monsanto expressed that “we at Monsanto are deeply committed to providing and participating in educational programs – particularly in science and agriculture – for students around the world. We are proud to be a part of CEIBA’s Biotech Summer Camp and to do our part to further the careers of future scientists, researchers and agronomists”.

In addition, the Site Leader of Dow AgroSciences, Lucy Cruz said that, “teaming up with PRABIA and CEIBA to make this summer camp possible has been a priority of Dow AgroSciences and are proud to collaborate with them to make it happen. Serving community needs is a core value at Dow AgroSciences. We believe that our efforts, along with those of our partners will help improve education and encourage innovators and future leaders who have the skills, talents and diversity to make our world a better place. Most of our biologists, agronomists, engineers and scientists are actively involved in various projects that positively impact the communities where we work, live and have fun”.

For over three decades, the biotechnology and agricultural biotechnology industries have been important economic engines for the Island. Currently, the latter represents a sector with a $28 million economic activity and it employs approximately 5,000 people, directly and indirectly. Also, the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO) has established a clear strategy to protect and expand the industrial base of the country, which has a large biotechnology companies and life sciences footprint.

The Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico established CEIBA in 2011 and today, is a unique research center with a focus on agricultural biotechnology. It also provides school curricula in biotechnology both at undergraduate and graduate level. As part of its mission to bridge the gap between academia and industry, and increase innovation through agriculture in the Island, the Center also provides specialized laboratory testing services, professional development workshops, and conferences to promote entrepreneurship and jobs related to bioscience.