In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Associate Professor of Medicine and Synthetic Biologist, Dr. Mads Kaern recognized that numerous undergraduate students would lose their summer placement and created a new program, the uOttawa BioTalent Program, to offer CO-OP students an alternative to on-site job training while working from home. He envisioned that replicating pedagogical elements from his experiences in the uOttawa undergraduate medical education (UGME) program could provide students an opportunity to enhance their job-readiness and develop meaningful skills and competencies via a problem-based learning model. Dr. Kaern proposed that the program should involve teams of 4-6 students working collaboratively via the internet to develop practical solutions and realistic implementation strategies to address a biotechnology problem with important societal, economical or policy implications.
The uOttawa BioTalent Program was approved to proceed with the hiring of the first cohort of CO-OP students on May 4, 2020. The students in this cohort were tasked with building a foundation for subsequent hiring by transforming ideas into full-fledged projects under the guidance of a uOttawa science, medicine or engineering faculty member. The result was the development of 10 student-led projects, including one team working with Policy Horizons, a Government of Canada agency. The projects are
- Emerging Biotechnologies for COVID-19 Point-of-care Testing
- Portable Devices for COVID-19 Point-of-care Diagnostic Testing
- Assessment of CBD for the Treatment of Inflammatory Responses in COVID-19 Patients
- Cost-efficient Technologies for Microbrewery and Craft Distilleries
- Innovative Natural Resource Development of Quebec’s Lower North Shore Region
- Foresight Analysis and Policy Implications of Biological and Digital Technology Convergence
- Design and Implementation of Virtual and IRL uOttawa BioMakerspaces
- Design of 3D Bioprinters for BioArt and Tissue Engineering Applications
- Developing a Business Plan for a uOttawa Biotechnology Resources Facility
- Technologies for RNA-based Biocomputing for “Smart” Biological Devices.
The Phase I of the program started with the recruitment of 11 students to complete the project development. These students worked for two or three weeks to expand the capacity of their respective projects by identifying project outcomes and guiding subsequent recruitment by identifying unmet knowledge and competency needs. An additional 28 students were recruited in Phase II and the third, and final phase, will bring in another 11 students for a total of 50 students.
Student salaries are fully covered by combining a fund from BioTalent Canada’s Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) and a special subsidy from uOttawa called the Work-Study Program. This is possible because BioTalent Canada extended eligible programs to include academic placements for the 2020/2021 fiscal year.
uOttawa is very proud of this great collaboration between BioTalent Canada, Government SWPPs, Policy Horizons, uOttawa faculty members and uOttawa Cooperative Education Programs.