Educators prepare to capture the future of biotechnology
By Scott Bigelow
Dr. Peter Kilpatrick discusses NC State's planned Biomanufacturing
Training and Education Center.
If biotechnology is the wave of the future, the ripples are already
landing on North Carolina's shores, and educational institutions are
making plans to keep the state at the forefront.
Area public school, community college and university representatives
received an update on the future of biotechnology at a July 29 conference
at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
The news holds promise for Southeastern North Carolina and the state,
said UNCP chemistry Professor Dr. Len Holmes.
"North Carolina just moved into third place from fifth in the
U.S. for biotechnology investment, research and manufacturing,"
Dr. Holmes said.
Economists predict biotechnology will be the leading employer in the
U.S. sometime in the 21st century, and biotech manufacturing holds great
promise to replace jobs lost in textiles and other manufacturing industries.
The conference focused on training a workforce to support the fledgling
"There is a lot going on in biotechnology in this region,"
said Sylvia Pate, director of UNCP's Regional Center for Economic, Community
and Professional Development. "This is part of our effort to bring
you up to date on issues in our region and in North Carolina."
Dr. Collie Coleman, UNCP's associate vice chancellor for Outreach,
said the University is building partnerships that will open the doors
of opportunity for biotechnology manufacturing and worker training in
"Biotechnology has been a total University effort, and our partnerships
with the community colleges, public schools, universities and the North
Carolina Biotechnology Center hold great potential for every individual
and institution in this room," Dr. Coleman said.
With a $600,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation,
UNCP's Project BIO will establish a Biotechnology Business and Industrial
Training Center at COMtech, a business incubator near Pembroke and Lumberton
and in the long term, will be a physical location housing a bench-to-pilot-scale
fermentation and biotechnology facility, providing the resources, curriculum
and programs for biotechnology-related training as well as academic
The University has forged partnerships with five community colleges
- Robeson, Richmond, Southeastern, Fayetteville and Central Carolina
- several biotechnology companies - Embrex, Kelly Scientific Resources,
New Brunswick Scientific and Wyeth Vaccines - and government agencies
in Scotland and Robeson counties.
NC State is preparing to break ground on a major biotech training facility
that is expected to open in 2006, said Dr. Peter Kilpatrick, chair of
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department and director of the
Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center.
"Biomanufacturing in North Carolina is currently clustered around
the research centers hugging I-40," Dr. Kilpatrick said. "Like
the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, biomanufacturing will spread
out all over North Carolina."
"To do this, we must ensure an adequately trained workforce,"
he said. "At NC State, we want to be the leaders in developing
education and training programs."
Because the biotech industry requires trained workers with high school,
community college and college degrees, there is a place at the table
for all of North Carolina's educational institutions.
UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University were also at
the conference. Also in attendance were representatives from Robeson
Community College, Fayetteville Technical Community College, Sampson
Community College, Southeastern Community College, Cumberland County
Schools, Sampson County Schools and the Public Schools of Robeson County.
Many of those in the room were science teachers like Dennis Chavis
of Lewis Chapel Middle School in Fayetteville.
"I came today because I wanted to find out more about biotechnology
and to jumpstart some of the students I am working with," Chavis
said. "The earlier we can expose them to this the better."
Sheila Regan, chair of Robeson Community College's Math and Science
Departments, said she is in the planning stages of purchasing equipment
for biotech training labs for a project called BioWorks.
"BioWorks is a hands-on science training program," Regan
said. "Planning it is our first challenge, but our second challenge
is interesting our students in this industry."
"The next 3-5 years are pivotal," Regan said. "We all
have to come back for retraining, and UNCP is offering that."
UNCP biology professor Dr. Maria Pereira outlined the University's
new biotechnology major, which is expected to begin in fall 2005. She
promised it would be a unique program.
"We know of no other Bachelor of Science degree in biotechnology
in North Carolina at this time," Dr. Pereira said. "It is
a collaboration between the Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics departments."
"Another unique feature of the new biotech major is an internship,
which could be at a biotechnology company or at the new training facility
at NC State," she said.
The daylong conference offered continuing education credits for teachers
and opportunities for them to obtain support for their school programs.
A representative from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center described
opportunities for training and gave an overview of the support it offers
to public schools and universities. UNC-Chapel Hill brought a mobile
teaching laboratory for the teachers to tour.
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