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MBA students explore synthetic biology strategy in Appalachian Highlands

This month we are highlighting a few of the MBA capstone experience projects created in collaboration with the ETSU Research Corporation. Next, we have a strategic plan to support regional synthetic biology research.
Bio Builder logo with a graphic of Tennesse and a map pinpoint on the northeast region.

Since August, ETSU MBA students Danansi Kouame, Wade Miller, and Tram Pham have worked with Dr. Natalie Kuldell, founder and executive director of BioBuilder, to support synthetic biology research and education in the Appalachian Highlands. The students are under the supervision of MBA co-instructors Dr. William Heise and Mr. David Golden of the ETSU Research Corporation. 

BioBuilder is an educational foundation aiming for comprehensive education in synthetic biology (SynBio). According to BioBuilder, this emerging area of STEM combines biology and engineering in order to build useful living systems in a reliable way, resulting in new systems to innovate healthcare, environmental practices, sustainability, and more.

"I ranked this project my number one choice when Dr. Heise presented the client projects to our class last fall," said Kouame from the MBA team. "The potential excited me, and I was looking forward to contributing to something significant. Over this past year, our team learned about SynBio, discussed the current initiatives in the Northeast Tennessee region with instructors and administrators that are hands-on, and formulated recommendations for the advancement of this brilliant technology in our region. I now have connections and interests that go beyond this project and allow me to be more involved in the education and well-being of others."

To determine the possibilities for SynBio research and education in the region, the MBA team conducted a series of interviews with the ETSU Clemmer College and College of Arts & Sciences, the Niswonger Foundation, and STEM instructors at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport, Tennessee.

The interviews reinforced existing ties between BioBuilder and each entity as well as helped the MBA team determine an educational approach for SynBio at ETSU. Of their findings, the team noted possibilities for a new SynBio curriculum and/or minor at the university, opportunities for research grants, and areas to incorporate SynBio into high school education. 

"I really would like to compliment this team on how far they have come this year and how thoughtful they were in their approach and analysis," Dr. Kuldell said of the MBA students. "They are incredible, articulate examples of this different approach to thinking about biology and its impact. They really are phenomenal, and I very genuinely hope they will become part of this force of individuals in the area who can shepherd SynBio forward."
With their findings, the team outlined plans for SynBio implementation in the Appalachian Highlands. This includes creating the high school and college education infrastructure as well as attracting SynBio businesses to the region and measuring SynBio impact across the country. 

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