SM East graduate wins Kansas BioGENEius challenge, represents state in international science competition

Elizabeth Falkner, a recent Shawnee Mission East graduate, has won the 2020 Kansas BioGENEius Challenge and recently represented Kansas in an international science competition.

Falkner developed a new protocol to use in biofilm after a year of research at the University of Kansas Orthopedic Research Center. She sent her research paper and poster to several competitions, including the BioGENEius challenge, which recognizes biology-related science projects that can be turned into therapy, treatment or product.

“I am so grateful to just have those opportunities to share my research, but actually being the Kansas representative has been an incredible experience,” Falkner said. “I’m representing everyone that has come before me in the state of Kansas, and I’m part of everyone that will come after me in [Kansas].”

After winning the Kansas BioGENEius Challenge Falkner competed in an international competition, which shifted to a five-day virtual event due to COVID-19.

As a student in the Shawnee Mission School District’s biotechnology signature program, Falkner was able to spend half of her school day at the The Orthopedic Research Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center prior to the pandemic. She said Kenneth Lee, director and coordinator of the program, boosted her motivation to win and helped improve her research, and herself, she said.

“He just pushes me every single day, not only to be a better researcher and science student, but to be a better person,” Falkner said.

Lee recently completed his first year as director of the program, taking over for the program’s creator Brenda Bott.

Falkner’s accomplishments come as a result of her hard work, Lee said. After becoming one of the winners at last year’s Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, she completely redid her research in a new facility. Now, she can see the fruits of her labor, he said.

“It’s all about pride for me,” Lee said. “The kids are like family, so when one good thing happens to one of them, we’re all excited for them.”

The international challenge winner will be announced on June 10, the final day of the virtual biology convention Falkner would have attended and presented at in person, prior to COVID-19.