After volunteering at multiple Mt. Laurel science fairs, doctors Yajamana Ramu and AJ Rastogi realized there aren’t many programs in the area with hands-on science experience for high-school students.
“We thought we should do something on a bigger scale so that more kids can get an opportunity. and that’s kind of where we started talking about opening Yard Sciences,” said Rastogi.
The new startup is available to any high-school student in the area. Each session offers the real-world experience of working in a lab and provides advanced studies for students who want to pursue areas of specialization in science.
Three Yard Sciences programs focus on biomolecular and genetic engineering, human anatomy and physiology, and surgical subspecialties. Students will have the opportunity to be in a lab for the same kind of hands-on training a medical student or a research scientist would get, according to Ramu.
“They’re going to do molecular cloning, splicing, gene editing, and polymerase chain reactions that would be in the scientific path that they take,” the doctor explained. “On others, they’ll do medical-science courses, as into working with model systems like heart, brain, and arthritis-type models.”
Each program lasts eight weeks and upon completion, students receive a certification of completion. Before starting a course, all students must take a lab-safety training class that is four hours long and will include a lab and surgical workshop, a surgical equipment handling walkthrough, and an overall ethics overview.
The cost of the lab safety course is $275; each eight-week session costs $2,500. Rastogi and Ramu also created a nonprofit for potential students who need help paying for the program, and financial sponsorships are also available.
“We run a nonprofit called Yard Education Foundation, where kids who come from an underserved area or they may come from a background where they normally wouldn’t get exposure to this, and these kinds of experiences, they would be able to,” Rastogi noted.
“We wanted to be able to have something available for them, and we’re now registered in New Jersey.”
An associate partner for Yard Sciences, Kenya Mosby is a former program manager at Columbia University who can assist kids on the nonprofit side and help them find sponsorships.
“We think she’s going to be a great resource for helping those children who may not have that kind of support system to be able to go after a college or a graduate degree, Rastogi said.
Ramu and Rastogi became friends through their work in the science industry. Rastogi is the co-founder of North American Spine and Pain Consultants and he has completed a fellowship in pain management at the University of Pennsylvania. Ramu is a doctor of philosophy in biological sciences, which helped him create a robust multiplatform lab at Penn for more than 20 years.
The two doctors talked for a while about putting together a program for students, but once COVID hit, they went full in on Yard Sciences because virtual students were losing academic experience. Rastogi and Ramu created a website and found a building in Mt. Laurel to house a lab.
“We tried to help the company get up and running, so we’ve been bootstrapping it with our own personal money and we’re happy to do it,” Rastogi said. “We think it’s going to be a fantastic thing for the community.”
Ramu came on board full time for Yard Sciences and the team recently hired an office manager. All equipment was self-funded, such as pharmaceutical refrigerators, centrifuge, and lab benches.
“We’ve got some really cool stuff,” Rastogi said. “We’re almost done.”
Yard Sciences will hold an open house for students in the next couple of weeks. For more information on course details or the nonprofit, check out https://yardsciences.com/.