Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ROP Instructors Visit Local Renewable Products Company

ROP teachers, Ernie Liu (Concord High), James Hybarger (Antioch High), and Tom Huffaker (Piedmont High), share insights before the staff development presentation at Amyris in Emeryville.
On March 29, five Contra Costa County ROP biotechnology instructors and three other local high school teachers met after school over at Amyris, an innovative renewable products company, located in Emeryville, to take in a very insightful Teacher Development Day.  The program gave our teachers an overview of Amyris’ scientific process and a tour of their research & development and pilot-plant facilities. 

Thanks to a personal contact with the company, CCCOE’s West County Region Principal Student Programs Dave Fendel was able to set up this program.  "Amyris is a company that is developing cutting edge technologies and this is a way for our teachers to stay involved in what is happening in industry,” said Dave.  “Not only do teachers walk away from the day with an understanding of the science, but they leave with materials and activities to use with their students in the classroom.  The goal is to motivate teachers and equip them with information that will engage and excite their students about the possibilities of a career in biotechnology."

The afternoon began with a very thorough presentation made by four Amyris scientists about their pathway to developing renewable fuel made from such ingredients as yeast and sugar.  The presentation was followed by a tour of the modern state-of-the-art facility.

Our teachers certainly found it to be an outstanding and educational visit.  Concord High School ROP biotechnology teacher Ernie Liu, Ph.D., reported that he thoroughly enjoyed the trip—and he certainly knows something about the day’s topic.  The 12-year CHS instructor has a background of five years experience on yeast research, three of them were on Saccharomyces cerevisiae (a species of yeast that has been instrumental in the baking and brewing since ancient times) for his Ph.D. dissertation.  In addition, his postdoctoral experience was on enzymes that degrade aromatic hydrocarbon.

Dr. Liu said, “It was great to find out the latest information on genomic manipulation of yeast.  It was very impressive to know how far that the field of research has advanced.  It’s also good to see how this concept can be related with our current school projects, such as screening microbes on our campus.”

 Serving as our group’s host was Lexi Brayton, who serves as Amyris’ manager of internal communications and cultural initiatives.  Brayton noted that Amyris frequently hosts on-site educational tours and that their scientists have visited many ROP classrooms.  Brayton said, “Today, we wanted to provide the visiting teachers with information, resources, and enthusiasm they could use to prepare their students for these interactions, or simply to enhance their curriculum.”  

This day proved, once again, how our ROP department continues to develop strong partnerships with such local businesses as Amyris, and our instructors and students certainly enjoy the benefits of the very latest material to teach and learn.

Former 49er great inspires the boys at Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility

Mr. Cacciaroni (left) with Keena Turner.
As he stood alone, in front of an audience of 100 boys at the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility, quietly nodding and smiling back to the audience who were settling into their chairs, former San Francisco 49er football star Keena Turner patiently waited for his introduction.  These moments of anticipation were followed by an impressive hour and a half of speaker and audience engagement.  This past Tuesday’s presentation was so successful, everyone was shocked by how fast the time flew by.

Now at age 53, Turner still looked like he could make the key tackles on Sundays like he did back in the 1980s.  Though speaking in a gentle and positive manner, it was obvious his words meant quite a bit to the young men, as well as the facility’s attending guards, teachers, and administrators.  The former All-Pro linebacker told the boys, “Life is about chasing goals, and I know many of you have goals right now, here in this facility.  Just remember, there will be challenges that act as roadblocks to you achieving your positive goals, but you need to break through them.  You are all at the beginning of your life journey, and that journey starts with you—right now.”

Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) teacher Allan “Mr. C” Cacciaroni, who teaches at Delta Vista High School, a CCCOE school that provides state-accredited education to the resident youth inside the rehabilitation facility, brought Turner out to give the boys the inspirational presentation.  “The boys really love hearing from these speakers.”  It was obvious, the way Turner had the entire audience’s attention.  “They showed Mr. Turner lots of respect by listening so intently.”  Through the years, “Mr. C” has brought in additional inspirational presenters to speak to the boys, including other grid-iron greats, such as Ronnie Lott, Eason Ramson, and Bennie Blades. 

Turner, who earned four Super Bowl rings during his eleven seasons with the 49ers, was kind enough to hand out two of them for all the boys to hold, try on, and marvel at.  “I am very happy to have those rings and other accolades that my team and I accomplished, but I’m more proud of the college degree I earned,” said Turner.  Before his pro career, Turner attended Perdue University, where he majored in physical education – though he did not finish his degree.  “After my playing days, I went straight back to college, and earned my BS degree in organizational behavior, at the University of San Francisco.  “Let me tell you guys, I keep my Super Bowl rings in my sock drawer, but I have my college diploma hanging up on a wall in my house.”

Turner talked about his current life: father of three, an active volunteer for the Boys & Girls Club, and his job as vice president of football affairs with the San Francisco 49ers.  He also talked about his younger days, before the 49ers, his childhood, high school football, growing up in Chicago, and attending Perdue University.

Throughout the majority of the morning, Turner answered numerous diverse questions: How much money did he make while playing?  Who was the hardest hitter on the team? Did he get in trouble as a young man?  Who was the most difficult player to tackle?  Did he do drugs?  Was he related to Tina Turner?  It was interesting how many questions were asked about players that Turner played with or against whose careers were well over before these young men were even born.

Before leaving, Turner reminded the boys to set and achieve their goals for a better life, and to start their positive journeys immediately.  It was certainly heartening to the popular speaker as many of the boys nodded back in agreement.