Students Develop Solutions to Real-World Problems

MCNDHS BioBuilderClub team hard at work on their experiment in the lab
The MCNDHS BioBuilderClub team hard at work on their experiment in the BioBuilder Learning Lab at Gingko Bioworks in Boston.

The Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School BioBuilderClub team, led by science teacher Alfred Lwin, completed their year-long synthetic biology project, a new approach to lead detection that uses a fluorescent sensor. Every year, BioBuilderClubs in schools across the country research and design bioremediation projects, travel to Boston to build and test them in a professional lab, and present their work at the BioBuilder Final Assembly. This year, MCNDHS was the only New York State school that participated in the Final Assembly.

MCNDHS is unique among NYC transfer high schools in offering a program of this kind. This is because of Lwin, who has always believed in his students and sought out opportunities for them. In 2014, he trained at MIT for certification as a BioBuilder team leader and started the MCNDHS branch, made possible by Community Schools 21st Century funding. Since then, each year he has recruited bright, motivated students from his science classes to join the team. Lwin, whose students affectionately say has a “tough love” approach, inspires them with his dedication to finding solutions to real-life environmental and public health problems.

Lwin is equally dedicated to his students. “They have part-time jobs after school, are taking College Now programs, and still maintain high scores in their academic projects. The MCNDHS team deserves commendation for their efforts and commitment amid their busy schedules.”

BioBuilderClub is intense: the team met with Lwin three days a week for most of the school year and often Zoomed on Saturdays. They prepared for their project by reading dense scientific texts and research papers. After completing it, they celebrated – by beginning a second research project, through the NYC DNA Urban Barcode Project, which MCNDHS students have participated in for eleven years. The students are enthusiastic and display an obvious delight in their work. They have also become close and bonded even more on the Boston trip. For most of them, the trip was their first time in a U.S. state other than New York.

The five BioBuilderClub members share not only a talent for science but ambition for the future. Mamadou Barry, who will be attending Baruch College in the fall, is fluent in five languages, including French, Mandarin, and Cantonese. He wants to pursue international business or diplomacy, but as a result of this experience is considering further studies in science. Keisi Goxhaj plans to study pre-med in college and become a doctor. In her native Albania, she didn’t have these kinds of opportunities. She especially appreciated the access BioBuilderClub gave her to the professional lab in Boston: “We got to see all the machinery. In all my life, I had never been in an actual lab.”

Lwin believes that the experiences students gain will be relevant in higher education: “The professors will give them the key to the lab.” The students are aware that BioBuilderClub will be formative; as Mamadou said, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It opened doors for us.”

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