Posts Tagged ‘biotech’

A Wealth of Educational Opportunities in Biotech

Friday, September 16th, 2011


Nearly 25 years ago, the Biotechnology Project at Madison Area Technical College was one of the first Biotech programs to be created at a community college. “We’ve been around since 1987, so we actually have a fairly long history,” notes program instructor Lisa Seidman. “This program was started when Biotechnology was a very, very small industry, really at the beginning of the Biotechnology revolution. So we’ve been a part of it since the very beginning.”

Since then, the field of Biotechnology has exploded, as groundbreaking scientific discoveries and technological developments have emerged with unprecedented speed. And, Biotech training and education programs have kept pace. Today, more than 50 community colleges and technical schools around the United States offer degrees and certificates in various aspects of the Biotech industry according to Bio-Link, a national consortium and clearinghouse for technician education.

This week’s ATETV Episode sat in on a number of Biotech classes; we decided to continue the exploration and take a look at some of the degree and certificate programs available in the field of Biotech.

Biotechnology Associate Degrees prepare students to work in such areas as Biotechnology research and development. Emphasizing “hands-on” learning, these two-year programs help familiarize students with cutting-edge scientific techniques, technologies and equipment. Among other subjects, students typically gain a working knowledge of molecular biology, recombinant DNA, immunology, protein purification and tissue cultures, through both classroom lectures and laboratory learning experiences. Foundational courses in English, as well as a variety of math and science disciplines (i.e. algebra, statistics, chemistry, biology, microbiology and computer science) are also often part of the program.

There are two types of Associate Degrees. The first is the Associate of Applied Science degree (A.A.A.S. or A.A.S.) a professional technical degree designed to prepare students to directly enter the workforce. The second are Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees. These also prepare students for jobs, but focus more on course work that can be transferred to four-year institutions.

Check out Bio-Link, for a full list of the more than 50 schools around the country that offer Associate’s Degrees in Biotechnology.

Today, many community colleges have also developed Certificate Programs focusing on specialized aspects of Biotech. Certificate programs generally require fewer credits than Associate Degrees. At Madison Area Technical College, for example, a Bioinformatics Certificate delves into the specifics of Bioinformatics, the application of Information Technology to the management and analysis of biological data. This program helps students develop the expertise needed for employment as Bioinformatics programmers and Genomics technicians — both growing fields — and is designed for students who have already had some college experience in the life sciences. The program includes introductory courses in Bioinformatics and Genomics as well as programming; website development; relational database coding; and networking operations, among others.

Another specialized area of certification is Biomanufacturing/Bioprocessing. These programs prepare students for entry-level positions in Biomanufacturing facilities, where living cells or their components – bacteria or enzymes, for example – are used to manufacture products, such as biofuels and therapeutics. One example is the Bioprocess Technology Program at MiraCosta College, which according to a recent profile in Science Careers, offers courses that focus on laboratory skills, Bioprocess technology and the production and analysis of biofuels.

Another specialized Certificate Program related to the Biotech field is Clinical Research Professional (CRP) certification. CRPs perform human research studies on the effects of new drugs and medical devices to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new therapies for the treatment of human disease. CRPs work in both biotech and pharmaceutical companies, as well as medical research labs, government labs and contract research organizations.

Students in CRP Certificate Programs like the one at Oklahoma City Community College learn clinical research site procedures, governmental and local regulatory affairs methods, experimental design and statistics, and technical reading and writing skills focusing on clinical research applications, as well as Bioethics.

Heading in a different direction, specialized Biotech Certificates are also available for Environmental Laboratory Technologists. At Georgia’s Gwinnett Technical College, for example, the program, which is two quarters long, prepares students to work in laboratories associated with environmental management, notably drinking water purification, waste water management and pollution remediation facilities. Specific courses include Regulatory Compliance, Environmental Testing Methodology, Environmental Pollution and Remediation and Water and Wastewater Laboratory Methods.

You may not have considered that medical devices are also a key component of the Biotech Industry. Products that are used to diagnose medical conditions, aid in surgical procedures or used as part of a therapy, medical devices include everything from artificial hearts to genetic tests, to X-ray machines, blood-sugar meters and tongue depressors.

A Medical Devices Certificate, such as one offered by Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington (Indiana) familiarizes students with the regulatory principles that are used in medical-device manufacturing, and in addition to a Biotechnology curriculum, includes courses in Medical Terminology, Quality Systems in Manufacturing and Medical Device Design and CAD Fundamentals.

Bio-Link can provide you with still more information about Biotech certificate programs, such as those focusing on Quality Control at Bergen Community College, and Associate’s Degree programs like the Regulatory Affairs Associate’s Degree offered at Ivy Tech.

ATETV Episode 40: A Closer Look at 3D Design, Data Storage and Drug Development

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

This week, we focus on three of today’s fast-growing industries – Rapid Manufacturing, Information Technology and Biomanufacturing.

In our first segment, we visit Saddleback College where students in the Rapid Manufacturing program are turning their two-dimensional ideas into intricate 3D product prototypes.

“The equipment you see in the school’s laboratory is the same equipment used by industry,” says Saddleback’s Ed Tackett. And it’s the program’s hands-on approach to education and training that has proven critical to its success.

“We let [students] make mistakes,” adds Ken Patton. “That way they learn and they don’t forget.” That’s especially important to today’s employers, as companies work to bring their high-end manufacturing design and tooling back from overseas.

“We’ve had offers from companies to hire our entire class sight unseen because of our approach to teaching technicians how to work in an industrial environment,” says Ken. “Part of the fun and excitement we have is the ‘wow’ factor every time we walk into the lab.”

Information Technology is another industry where jobs are growing rapidly – even exponentially — as we learn in our second segment.

“Anybody who needs to keep data – which is just about everybody nowadays – are our customers,” explains Todd Matthews of EMC Corporation, one of the world’s largest data storage companies. So whether it’s banking records, medical information or online photos and e-mail accounts, or any of the myriad data we use each day, it all has to be stored – and stored securely.

And, says Todd, this is only the beginning. “More digital data will be created in the next two years than was produced in the last 10. Wouldn’t you want to be working in that type of industry? It’s growing exponentially.” Wow, that’s an impressive statistic.

Finally, the week’s third segment explores pharmaceutical development, another fast-growing industry. And, as Great Bay Community College student Matthew Dobben explains, the process required to bring a new drug to market begins with Biomanufacturing, a specialized type of manufacturing technology used to produce biological agents.

“In this lab, we produce the proteins that are used by the pharmaceuticals to create drugs,” says Matthew, who is enrolled in Great Bay’s Biomanufacturing Technology program. “[And this other] area involves recombinant DNA technology, while next door we research and use a process known as chromatography, which is purification.”

The highly technical skill sets needed to produce these biological materials require careful organization and attention to detail. But, as Matthew notes, it all begins with a love of science. “You need to know what you’re talking about [when] you’re considering millions of dollars worth of [new] drugs.” Wow – that’s a great challenge and tremendous responsibility.

Building A Biotech Career, One DNA Strand At a Time

Thursday, June 10th, 2010
DNA Strand from the U.S. Library of Medicine

DNA Strand from the U.S. Library of Medicine

DNA is the basic building block of life, and these days, it’s also the building block for many a job in the Biotechnology industry. Ever since the launch of the Human Genome project (the massive effort to identify all human genes) in 2003, the fields of Biotechnology and life sciences have been booming, with a broad spectrum of career opportunities waiting to be filled by skilled technicians, as we heard in this week’s episode.

Today, the foundation for these important jobs is laid in high school, with the National Science Education Standards emphasizing a curriculum that includes a working knowledge of the life sciences — including the structure and function of DNA.

But, what exactly, is DNA? It stands for deoxyribonucleic acid and in the simplest of terms, it is the hereditary material in most all living creatures, including humans and is found in every cell in the body. Because DNA is a “double helix,” it has the unique ability to replicate, or make copies of itself; consequently when our cells divide, each new cell is able to have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell. For that reason, TV crime shows often refer to DNA as a “genetic fingerprint.”

Check out the Genetics Science Learning Center at the University of Utah for activities and information that teach the nuts and bolts of DNA and genetics, including a primer on heredity and an overview of cells.

How does this translate to jobs? According to the U.S. Human Genome Management Information System, DNA and genomics offer almost limitless career opportunities. For example, genetic data is leading to new applications in medicine including everything from genetic counseling to vaccine development and pharmaceutical careers. To learn how to prepare for a career in the biosciences and Biotechnology field, along with a guide to specific career areas, visit here.

You can also find job descriptions of a wide variety of Biotech careers including laboratory technicians, metrology specialists and software development analysts (to name just a few) at BioLink- The National Advanced Technology Education Center focused on Biotechnology.

And if you need just more inspiration, consider this excerpt from a speech made by President Barack Obama last November as he described the future of the U.S. economy: “I’m committed to moving our country from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math education over the next decade…This is probably going to make more of a difference in determining how well we do as a country than just about anything else that we do.” From classroom to career, don’t overlook that Biology homework!

ATETV Episode 37: Careers in Telecom and Biotech are Booming

Monday, June 7th, 2010

This week, we hear from employers and educators in two of today’s fastest growing industries — Biotechnology and Telecommunications — and learn how they are working together to prepare students to emerge as tomorrow’s technicians.

In our first segment, we head to San Diego, a hub of the country’s Biotech industry, where Southwestern Community College is working hand-in-hand with area Biotechnology companies to design the curriculum and develop the classroom skills that will enable students to launch Biotech careers as soon as they graduate.

“We have over 500 Biotechnology companies here in San Diego, and all are in need of entry level technicians,” explains Southwestern’s Nouna Bakhiet, PhD. She adds that when the school’s Biotechnology program was first created in 1999, Southwestern reached out to industry to learn about its specific needs, which enabled them to carefully design the program’s course content. Over the years,industry has come in to co-teach some of the program’s Biotech courses, providing students with firsthand instruction in specific applications. The end result: Students emerge from the program armed with experience and ready to go — many of them actually become managers within only two years of their hire.

In our second segment, we hear about another program that is also preparing students to hit the ground running — this time in the rapidly growing and changing field of Telecommunications. “[Today's Telecom industry] encompasses many things,” explains Andrew Maynard of Springfield Technical Community College. “It encompasses networking, it encompasses computer programming, [it encompasses] web programming.” In fact, the Telecom world today is actually a convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Telecommunications, as the use of voice and data are becoming one.

And, as Springfield student Steven Worthing tells us, the school’s relationship with the Telecom industry has provided him with the hands-on experience that is critical for success in such a rapidly changing industry. “I studied a broad course in Computer System Engineering Technology,” explains Steven. But he says that his experience working as a part-time computer telephone technician repairing telephone lines for CRA has really given him the edge when it comes to mastering the skills needed for the field.

“CRA is a nine-year old company, serving the small- and mid-sized business, helping them to successfully navigate working with the telephone companies,” explains CRA’s Laura Bernstein. “We find that [this type of Telecom training] is rare, so we reached out to Springfield Technical Community College to find students that seem to have the predisposition to be good [at this field] and the students seem to be very excited about the opportunity.”

It’s a good match all the way around notes Springfield’s Andrew Maynard. “It’s really nice [for our students] as they’re out there competing for jobs. Not only do they have a degree, but they can demonstrate that they went the extra distance and gained experience, which really shows a certain level of commitment…and understanding of the subject matter. It’s helped many of our students gain employment.”

ATETV Episode 34: Internships, Information and Innovations

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

This week, the “I’s” have it as we look at the importance of internships, the growing fields of Information and Communication Technologies and innovations in Biotechnology.

In our first segment, we talk with employers from a variety of industries who agree that student interns have provided their companies with vitally important support. “We [currently] have a number of full-time employees who started out as interns,” explains William Bither of Atalasoft, Inc. “It’s been a good way for us, as an employer, to really evaluate how [an individual] will fit in with our company.”

Adds Keith Parent of the Court Square Group, “It’s great if [a job candidate] has already had an internship [and been exposed to the same field as ours]. We like to find employees that come in with an internship background.” And, he adds, for the student interns at the Court Square Group, “If the student fits and likes what we do, I’d love to be able to offer them a job and keep them on.”

And, as we learn from Jill Heiden of ESAB Welding and Cutting Products, many internships are paid positions, enabling older students with families the opportunity to explore new ventures without sacrificing income. “This allows students to not only go to school, but to be productive and provide for their families,” she explains.

Finally, notes David Marlin of Metacomet Systems, graduating with a job reference already in hand can provide the leg up a student needs in today’s competitive job market. “The experience you get on the job is so valuable,” he emphasizes.

In our second segment, we examine a different kind of networking as we explore the Computer Information Technology (CIT) program at Springfield Technical Community College.

“CIT encompasses many things in the [computer] industry,” explains Springfield’s Andrew Maynard. “We’re preparing programmmers for programming jobs. We’re also preparing web programmers for web programming jobs. There’s also a technical side [of the industry] which is very close to the hardware and then there’s the business side.”

Adds student Sean Coughlin, “We’re dealing [directly] with the physical equipment, the cables, everything. This hands-on, real-world stuff is wonderful.”

Juan Valenzuela couldn’t agree more, as we learn in our third segment. “I’m enrolled in the Biotech program at Southwestern College,” he explains. “I actually received my bachelor’s degree in biology and I’m [returning to school] because I’ve been applying to a number of places and learning that a lot of employers require experience. So with this program at Southwestern, I’m hoping to get an internship.” And with his hands-on applications conducting DNA purification and other sophisticated Biotech experiments, Juan can pursue a Biotech career with a newfound confidence. “It’s one of the best things that I could recommend,” he adds.

ATETV Episode 10: Back to Fundamentals

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

We’ve been talking a lot about big ideas in ATE on this blog: women in science and tech, social media as an educational tool, and the coming green economy. This week we’re turning to focus on two very practical and important parts of the educational experience: the math and science classes high school students need to be taking to get into ATE programs, and the internships that will help them land jobs after they complete their degrees.

But first, we profile student Matthew Kusza, who is studying environmental technology at Cape Cod Community College. Like many of our previous student profiles, Matthew turned to ATE to help him change careers. “I have four kids, and keeping busy with that and school and working to pay the bills,” he told us. “Most of the classes are at night, so that’s very supportive in terms of a work environment.”

Next we head out west to Southwestern College in San Diego, which has had fantastic success placing students in internships — and placing interns in jobs after school. “We still to this day have a hundred percent hiring rate with the industry of any intern that has completed a ten-week internship with an industry host,” explains Nouna Bakhiet, director of the school’s biotechnology program. By consulting with industry when designing their program, Southwestern is guaranteeing that students are graduating with the skills companies want and need.

Finally, we get back to basics and discuss the importance of basic math and science skills for ATE students. It’s not just that taking those classes in high school will better prepare students for ATE programs; it’s also essential for landing a job afterwards. “In our world, it’s of utmost importance that they have science and math because without that, they don’t have the technical expertise that we require,” explains Jill Heiden of South Carolina-based ESAB Welding and Cutting Products.

Math, science and internships: three fundamental building blocks of a strong ATE program and a successful career and in science and technology.