Advancing Women and Minorities in Science Through Internship Program

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology

    The Center for AgTech and Applied Location Science and Technology (CATALST) has an internship program encouraging minorities and women in the pursuit of bioscience and geospatial technologies.

    “Using chloroplasts to transform things. It’s just exciting. This is something that I never thought in a million years could actually happen,” said Mashay Cody, intern at Plastomics.

     Mashay Cody’s exciting journey into bioscience began in college, leading to her internship at St. Louis AgTech startup Plastomics. Plastomics’ technology is designed to deliver beneficial plant traits for insect and disease resistance into major crops like soybeans and corn. Plastomics says it’s doing it in a new way with greater benefits, by delivering traits into the chloroplast of plant cells. And Cody is helping.

     “I do a lot of cell culturing. We use different media selections. I get to do different arrangements,” Cody said. “Just acquiring new skills that I never ever thought that I would be able to acquire in my life. “

    St. Louis nonprofit  BioSTL recruits interns for companies supported by BioGenerator, the nonprofit’s investment arm. BioSTL has comprehensive set of programs designed to elevate St. Louis’ leadership in solving important world challenges in agriculture, medicine, health care, and other technology areas.

    BioSTL’s CATALST Internship Program is managed by Anji Taylor, BioSTL’s Manager of Employer Partnerships.

    “We are able to pay our interns $15 an hour for up to 12 weeks,” Taylor said.

    A $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration supports CATALST initiatives for precision agriculture and geospatial technologies in St. Louis. CATALST is managed through a partnership between the Danforth Plant Science Center, T-REX and BioSTL.

    Through the CATALST internship program, BioSTL is seeking minority students and women, like Danielle Robinson. As an intern, Robinson also worked alongside scientists in a lab, helping St. Louis startup BioPharma Greens with a plant-based expression system for a particular protein. The protein is grown in lettuce for an efficient and affordable way to produce therapeutics and vaccines.

    “Everyone is kind of scared to go into biology and technology,” said Robinson. “You look at the Big BangTheory and you think this is what it’s all about, that you can’t start from the entry level. So, I really just wanted to really personally challenge myself.”

    In the world of science, Taylor says women are also considered a minority as they are underrepresented.

    “A lot of times people say if you build it, they will come. But sometimes you don’t come because you don’t feel invited to the table. So, this allows for minorities that are in research and development to feel invited to the table,” said Taylor.

    It’s believed research and development in the life sciences would benefit from the perspectives of people from different backgrounds.

    “Through the CATALST internship program, BioSTL is seeking minority student researchers and talent that are in disenfranchised communities, or of color or female,” said Taylor.

    And the interns get a chance to get real world experience.

    “It allows for them to feel that pressure of knowing this piece of equipment that you’re working with costs millions of dollars or this piece of research you’re working on is everything to this company,” said Taylor.

    Taylor said having diverse early-career researchers are essential for continued advancement of research and development in St. Louis. She said the program offers life-changing experiences that could one day lead to big things.

    “I didn’t even know the biotech program even existed,” said Cody. “It’s like a window of opportunity, a well-kept secret. And it shouldn’t be a well-kept secret. People need to know about this because it’s a great program and it’s rewarding. It will lead you to a good job, a good career. “