Genentech Inc. announced Tuesday that it is establishing anationwide communications network for high-school biologyteachers at a cost of $10 million.

Called Access Excellence, the program, accessed throughAmerica Online, will enable teachers to communicate with oneanother and obtain information from universities andeducational organizations around the country. America Onlineor Genentech will post information on the network.

Genentech (NYSE:GNE) is setting up an informationclearinghouse and support center for the program at itsheadquarters in South San Francisco, Calif. A director will behired in the next four to six weeks; he or she will then hire twoadditional staff people. Genentech expects the program to berunning by the end of the year. Genentech scientists will alsobe involved in the program. Geoff Teeter, Genentech's managerof corporate communications, said company scientists may goon-line as guest speakers or volunteer to answer questions.

Information available on-line will include lesson plans andactivities contributed by core teachers, materials and resourcesfrom regional and national science and education programs, abiotechnology encyclopedia, and biotechnology updates. Inaddition, a message board will allow teachers to pose generalquestions and receive responses.

In making the announcement on Tuesday, Genentech cited an"isolation barrier" most teachers experience. The companysponsored a survey of 500 high-school biology teachersconducted by The Roper Organization in September. Ninety-twopercent of the teachers said they felt isolated from their peersacross the country and wished there was a convenient way toexchange ideas.

When asked what they would most like access to, they firstcited computer networks and second, scientists in labs.

The idea for Access Excellence arose through discussionsbetween Genentech representatives and biology and scienceteachers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company then heldfocus group meetings with biology teachers in Springfield,Mass., Kansas City, Kan., and Austin, Texas. In addition,Genentech consulted with numerous organizations, includingthe National Academy of Sciences, the American Association forthe Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Institutes ofHealth and the University of California at San Francisco andBerkeley.

As part of the program, the National Science TeachersAssociation (NSTA) is sponsoring a competition to select 100biology teachers each year of the program to become the coreparticipants in the computer network, receiving special trainingand a free laptop computer. They will also take part in anannual biology education summit. In addition, a quarterlypublication featuring ideas from teachers participating in thenetwork will be distributed free to the more than 50,000biology teachers in the country.

Genentech's $10 million funding will support the program forthree years, after which time the company will evaluate theprogram and decide whether to continue running it or seek apartner, such as the NSTA. Teeter predicted that the program"will take on a life of its own" as teachers go on-line.

Richard Nicholson, executive officer of AAAS, is chairman of theAccess Excellence advisory board, and the honorarychairwoman is Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. The nine-memberboard includes David Botstein, chairman of the Department ofGenetics at Stanford University; Gerald Fink, director of theWhitehead Institute for Biomedical Research; and DavidMicklos, director of the DNA Learning Center at Cold SpringHarbor Laboratory.

-- Brenda Sandburg News Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.