Federal science grant fuels BCTC biotech project

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 5, 2010) B is for Bluegrass, but it also stands for another growing specialty in the region: biotech.

At Bluegrass Community and Technical College, a $445,000 National Science Foundation grant has helped kick off the Biotechnology Project, a program that aims to increase the skilled workforce of biotechnology lab technicians in the Central Kentucky region.

The Biotechnology Project is a great example of responding to a community need, said Assistant Dean of Natural Sciences Tammy Liles, who co-directs the program with Assistant Professor of Biology and Project Coordinator Deborah Davis.

The program has been three years in the making; as the number of biotech firms increased and relocated to the Bluegrass region and to University of Kentuckys Coldstream Research Park, these industries started asking BCTC's Workforce Solutions for basic lab skills training programs.

The need was born out of the industries coming to us, Davis said.

The Biotechnology Project is modeled after several nationally recognized biotech programs at community colleges around the nation, including Madison Area Technology College in Wisconsin, Austin Community College in Texas, and City College of San Francisco.

This project is happening in a very exciting time in science where the focus of technician education training is moving away from typical four-year institutions into the community colleges, Davis said. These funds will enable us to purchase state-of-the-art, cutting-edge equipment typically not available for teaching at a community college.

The project has three areas of focus:

Develop a trained biotech workforce in the Bluegrass Region by providing pre-baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate certificates and an Associate of Applied Science program.

Develop industry partnerships and student internship opportunities.

Establishing a Bridge to Biotech program focusing on secondary schools to develop dual credit and dual enrollment opportunities for high school students and offering paid teacher workshops for science teachers to learn more about biotechnology and receive supplies to take back to the classroom.

Students enrolled in the Biotechnology Certificate Program (Basic Biotechnician) may complete the required classes in one semester. The classes consist of hybrid courses, which are classes that are a mixture of on-line instruction and in-person hands-on laboratories. These classes are also opened to high school students as dual-credit courses.

Future plans are to collaborate with technical high schools in the region to develop capstone courses in biotechnology at the high schools so students will be able to earn college credit, Davis said.

The Biotechnology Project currently only offers certificate programs, but will soon include two-year Associates of Applied Science degree.

Ten students completed the pilot certificate program in May 2010; some have transferred to Eastern Kentucky Universitys four-year clinical laboratory science program, but most are continuing at BCTC for an associates of applied science degree. Two of the students have been hired full-time as lab technicians.

In the fall 2010 semester, 13 students are enrolled in the certificate program; six of them are participants in Workforce Initiative Act for retraining after work displacement.

The Biotechnology Program will also include a paid summer workshop for secondary in-service science teachers to learn more about biotechnology so they may bring back the technology to their classrooms.

For more information about the Biotechnology Project, contact Biotechnology Program Coordinator Deborah Davis at deborah.davis@kctcs.edu or (859) 246-6451.

Read more about BCTC in Bluegrass News