Juniors Juan Gomez and Jonas Rowland intern with researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center


Sarah Milks, Staff Writer

For the past two years, Northwest has been home to juniors Juan Gomez and Jonas Rowland for all seven hours of the day. However, the University of Kansas Medical Center now provides them with an escape from the typical classroom and an opportunity to pursue their passion for biotechnology.

“We got involved in the biotech program at the Center of Academic Achievement (CAA),” Gomez said. “An opportunity presented itself through the teacher over there, Mrs. Bott, so we both ran with it.”

Going into their junior year, both Gomez and Rowland planned on taking IB Diploma classes to prepare them for college. After failing to enroll in Intro to Biotechnology their sophomore year, the two knew they wanted to take it this year. They spoke to Intro to Biotech teacher Lindsey Demke, who offered them an option.

“Juan came in with Jonas and they talked about how they wanted to do the biotech program, but since they were going to be juniors, they wanted to be able to go to the CAA,” Demke said.

Demke herself has some lab experience, so when the boys came in she knew that if both the boys were dedicated enough they could skip the intro class.

“I already knew Juan wanted to do this and that he is a really good student,” Demke said. “I told him he should do , absolutely skip the intro class and jump right into research in the biotech program.”

With Demke’s guidance and the internship on the table, Gomez and Rowland had a lot to consider. The boys would have to give up swim in order to take on this internship instead of just attending the biotech class at the CAA. If the two left the swim team, only one junior, Scott Klein, would be left. They also had to sacrifice time with their families.

“These programs a much better fit for both of us,” Rowland said.

“We go to KU Med then come back to Northwest around 5:30 every day,” Gomez said. “Our afternoons are taken up, so obviously we couldn’t do afternoon swim practices. We then go home and do homework, so that definitely takes a toll on our family time.”

Despite everything Gomez and Rowland gave up, sticking with the internship at KU Med through graduation will be a huge advantage later.

“They said if we do continue with this program through the summer and next year that we’d have just as much as, if not more lab experience than an undergrad student,” Gomez said. “That is really exciting to think about since that will open up more possibilities.”

Gomez and Rowland both want to take on a big research project in the future, but for now, are studying primarily proteins and touching on the makeup of cells. They agree that having each other only a couple of cubicles away not only makes their friendship stronger, but gives them someone to discuss their research with. Since neither Rowland nor Gomez works with people their own age, they enjoy the opportunity to study side by side.

“It’s so nice to have someone that you know in there with you,” Rowland said. “There are two girls from other SM high schools and we see them and wave, but we don’t really know them.”

Gomez and Rowland’s journey may not be typical for high school students, but when they were offered the chance, they couldn’t pass it up.

“I was kind of in disbelief,” Gomez said. “We were already really excited and shocked to be at the CAA. When you go there, you see people preparing for the workforce. KU Med takes it to the next level.”

Going into this program, Gomez and Rowland never knew that their future was just at their fingertips. With the help of their teachers and the KU Med biotech program, they are learning not only about their love for biotechnology but researching something so much greater—the future.

“I love hearing that they are taking an active role in their education and taking advantage of these opportunities and resources that all students have access to,” Demke said. “The fact that they are willing to put in that effort and initiative is something they should be proud of.”