'An eye-opener': 4-H members go behind the scenes at P.E.I. bioscience companies

A new program on P.E.I. is giving 4-H members a hands-on introduction to bioscience companies across the Island, making the pitch of the career potential in the industry.

2018 marks 100th anniversary of 4-H on P.E.I.

There were eight participants in the first-ever BioFutures project, ranging from Grade 11 to second-year university. (Submitted by Vivian Beer)

A new program is giving 4-H members a hands-on introduction to P.E.I. bioscience companies, which hope the youth see potential for careers in the industry.

The idea came from Steve Howatt, a former member of 4-H who's now part of the P.E.I. BioAlliance.

"He's a scientist and he has his own company in the bioscience sector," said Vivian Beer of the BioAlliance.

"He thought it would be such a great idea to introduce 4-H members to the bioscience industry and see if we might spark some ideas for them to think about careers in bioscience." 

'Right here in our own back yard'

There were eight participants in the first-ever BioFutures project, ranging from Grade 11 to second-year university. 

The students' first stop was at the National Research Council, where they put on lab coats and looked at cancer cells under a microscope. (Submitted by Vivian Beer)

Their first stop was at the National Research Council, where they put on lab coats and looked at cancer cells under a microscope.

"They've been fascinated," said Kelly Mullaly of 4-H P.E.I.

"I think they've been genuinely surprised by the organizations that are right here in our own back yard that they never even knew existed."

"Since I'm going to be studying sciences I thought this would be a really good way to learn more about the jobs in the industry that I could explore after graduating," said Julie VanLeeuwen, a member of the Pleasant Valley 4-H club.  

"I didn't even know there was a BioAlliance before this project so it's been really eye-opening for me and I've loved it all."

'I was really surprised'

The 4-H members have been impressed by the range of opportunities available in the bioscience sector on P.E.I.

The 4-H members learned about the connection between food and science at Canada's Smartest Kitchen. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"Food scientist, aquaculture, fish nutritionist — and then there was microbiology day," said VanLeeuwen. 

Genevieve Beaulac of the Fort Augustus Shining Stars 4-H club agreed that the five-week tour has been "eye-opening."

"I was really surprised because we went to a place where they were looking into crops, and we went and did some marine biology, and there's just so many industries in the bioscience sector which is crazy," said Beaulac. "I had no idea that a lot of them were on P.E.I."

'Very passionate' about opportunities

The group also visited Nautilus BioSciences at UPEI campus, Nature's Crops International in Kensington, P.E.I., The Centre for Aquaculture Technologies in Souris, P.E.I., and Canada's Smartest Kitchen in Charlottetown.

At Canada's Smartest Kitchen, the 4-H members saw a demonstration of pasteurization. (Submitted by Vivian Beer)

"Any time there's an opportunity to expose students at an early age to new opportunities to apply science or to pursue science, I'm very passionate about that," said Peter Crooks, executive director at Canada's Smartest Kitchen.

Crooks sees the 4-H members as good candidates for careers in bioscience.

"The application of science in the future of food is a very important one so I presume that these young people have some knowledge of where their food comes from being part of the 4H club."

The project has also had positive spin-offs for the 4-H.

"We were thrilled because we were looking for a program that would help keep our older members engaged," said Mullaly. 

"We're hoping that it will become an annual event and something our younger members are aiming for and it will keep them interested."

At Canada's Smartest Kitchen the 4-H members got to see how ice cream is made from goat's milk and then try it. (Submitted by Vivian Beer)

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About the Author

Nancy Russell

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca