A new Web site developed locally and designed to attract youngsters to careers in the life sciences sector now shares something in common with the wildly popular Club Penguin site.
The Indianapolis Private Industry Council, with assistance from locally based Creative Street Media Group, created BioWorksU.com. And while more educational and likely more appealing to a larger age group than Club Penguin, the two were among recent Webby Awards finalists.
Called the "Oscars of the Internet" by The New York Times, the awards recognize excellence in Web sites, interactive advertising, and online film and video.
The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences in May chose BioWorksU.comas one of 14 award "honorees." Other finalists in the youth category included National Geographic Kids, BarbieGirls.com, Cartoon Network and Playhouse Disney. Scholastic won the category and will receive its award at a June 9 ceremony.
Overall, the 12th annual competition drew more than 10,000 entries from 60 countries. Fewer than 15 percent were recognized as a finalist.
Creative Street never had advanced to the Webby finals before. The nearly 25-year-old firm, however, is no stranger to high praise. It won an Emmy last year for its production of the documentary "Vietnam Nurses."
"It's a huge honor, quite frankly," Creative Street President Steve Katzenberger said of the Webby recognition. "It's reaffirming to everybody here."
The impetus for BioWorksU.comdates to late 2003 when IPIC partnered with the Indiana Health Industry Forum to conduct a labor market study for the local life sci- ences industry.
Researchers found that the sector would continue to grow, likely creating within the next five to 10 years massive job shortages in the health care and biotech arenas, IPIC President Joanne Joyce said.
Brochures won't do
Armed with a $1 million job-training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, IPIC funded 12 initiatives it had been working on to help build the work force, including the BioWorksU.comsite. Out of 230 organizations to apply for funding, IPIC was one of only 12 selected.
Michelle Study Campbell, IPIC's director of strategic initiatives, is credited with conceiving the BioWorksU.comidea. The organization officially launched the site last October, with Indianapolis Public Schools, at the Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet School.
"We knew we couldn't write a grant for another nice trifold brochure," she said of IPIC's decision to appeal to the online generation.
The site is separated into three levels for students in fourth through sixth grades, seventh through ninth grades, and 10th grade and above. Activities increase in difficulty for older age groups.
The goal is to complete the exercises and earn points that accumulate toward achieving a high school diploma, and then college degrees ranging from an associate's to a doctorate.
IPIC's decision to develop the site was bolstered by a recent study conducted by the local Lumina Foundation, a not-forprofit that funds efforts that expand access to higher education. The study found that 90 percent of youngsters aspire to go to college.
Moreover, the site helps to dispel the belief that jobs in life sciences require a doctorate degree, Joyce said. The Web site is available in Spanish as well.
"If you have them aspiring," she said, "you can give them the opportunity, no matter their background."
More collaborations coming
IPIC and Creative Street collaborated with corporations, health care providers and university programs to develop the Web site that resembles an actual campus.
Visitors begin in the admissions office where they can tour the site and learn about the credit system that leads to the earning of the four degrees. From there, they can travel to discovery and development, the hospital, the dentist and the library.
In discovery and development, for instance, medical, diagnostic and agriculture labs let students tackle such things as, "What's in a cell?" At the hospital, they can learn how diseases are diagnosed and how to fill a prescription.
Kids in real life may not enjoy visiting the dentist, but they do in the virtual world. Finding cavities and building smiles by placing teeth in the correct positions so far has proven most popular with students, Joyce said.
The departments feature a mix of video and text. Dow AgroSciences LLC, Roche Diagnostics, St. Vincent Health, Wishard Health Services and the Indiana University schools of science and dentistry collaborated with Creative Street to allow videotaping of employees and laboratories to post on the Web site.
Students can choose from 14 lesson plans, which meet Indiana academic standards. Each virtual room they enter has a diploma hanging on the wall. A click on the diploma takes them to 33 careers within the life sciences industry. Information about the jobs includes descriptions, demand and income data.
Laura Small, president of Indianapolisbased DyKnow, a developer of interactive educational software, is familiar with BioWorksU.com, and applauded IPIC for its efforts.
"Anytime you can get kids excited about the science and math fields, it's a great thing," she said. "And kids naturally migrate to the use of technology."
For IPIC, the Web site thrusts it into the upper echelon of the nation's work-force development organizations, of which there are roughly 600, Joyce said. It also should enable IPIC to more easily attract additional grant money.
BioworksU.comwill be showcased at the U.S. Department of Labor's national conference in July.
IPIC and Creative Street already are following up on the success by working on versions for the construction sector and the manufacturing and logistics sector.