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ATE grants boost biotechnology training

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Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an article in the August/September edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of Community Colleges.

With the Scripps Research Institute and at least 30 more startup biotech companies in the Palm Beach, Fla., area, it’s no wonder administrators at Palm Beach State College (PBSC) sought a National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant.

“We have to make sure our students are employable,” says Alexandra Gorgevska, PBSC professor of biotech and chemistry. “We keep close ties with our industry partners and constantly host events at which we ask: ‘What do you need? What instruments do you use?’”

2011 ATE National Principal Investigators Conference The college’s most recent ATE grant will pay for internships at local biotech companies and allow the department to create additional support systems for current and incoming students, including an alumni mentoring/tutoring program and a student-ambassador program, in which experienced students are encouraged to guide the newbies.

The grant also covers the cost of staff development, allowing faculty to attend NSF workshops and conferences.

“We want advisers to know about our courses and career opportunities,” says Gorgevska. “Awareness is key.”

Tools for teachers

Shoreline Community College (SCC) in Washington recently used money from an ATE grant to present an industry workshop for educators hosted by the Dolan DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“Teachers have no idea how kids get a job in the industry,” says Guy Hamilton, biology/biotechnology program chair at SCC. “If you do this advanced stuff and get kids interested, what’s the next step? How do you cultivate that interest?”

To determine what materials to cover, the DNA Learning Center surveyed biology and biotech faculty members at community colleges and AP biology teachers and studied federal and state labor reports.

During its three-year term, organizers say the program will reach 288 biotechnology faculty at weeklong workshops conducted at 12 community colleges.

“The tools we cover in the workshop give students a peek at what is going on in very advanced labs,” says Hamilton. “We want them to know they can come to our biotech program and spend two years developing all the skills they’ll need to go out and work or transfer to a four-year school.”

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