UNCP graduates take advantage of bioprocessing training

Inaugural cohort of the 2024 Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing bioprocessing training program
Inaugural cohort for the Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing bioprocessing training program

Recent UNC Pembroke graduate Halli Benton has her sights on a career in biomanufacturing and is taking advantage of a two-week short course in hopes of springboarding her way into the life sciences manufacturing industry.

Benton is among the inaugural bioprocessing training program cohort being hosted at UNCP’s Biotechnology Research and Training Center as part of the Accelerate NC – Life Sciences Manufacturing Initiative.

“This training is a good way for me to find some direction because it’s been tough to find a job in my field of study––zoology,” Benton said. “I feel like experience is what I lack the most, so it will be good to get into a professional setting and establish myself. It’s comforting to be able to have some sense of direction.”

The initiative is funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge, which aims to expand workforce opportunities in biomanufacturing and biopharma across the state.

Twelve participants are offered hands-on and lecture-based training covering various aspects of upstream and downstream processing to prepare them for entry-level positions in biopharmaceutical manufacturing. More than 70 guests, including representatives from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and pharmaceutical companies Amgen, Novo Nordisk and Pfizer, joined Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings and other university leaders at a kickoff ceremony this week.

“This is a great opportunity for someone like me who didn’t have a job lined up straight out of college,” said Brandon Kent, who graduated from UNCP in December with a biology degree. “This program will allow me to understand bioprocessing better and hopefully start a career.”

UNCP is the first regional site to offer the certification program. Additional training will be held at five other colleges and universities––Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Livingstone College, Saint Augustine's and Winston-Salem State––as part of the HBCU/HAIU coalition led by N.C. Central University’s Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE).

“The more we show folks the resources you have here in Robeson County and the more that we remind them that you are now skilled and trained for life sciences manufacturing, the more they will look here to grow, expand and put down roots,” said Sara Imof, senior executive with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “Our job is to get folks to bring those life sciences manufacturers here.”

The maximum number of participants for the course is 12, but the training has attracted tremendous interest from 150 individuals from across the state and into South Carolina.

“We had no idea that we were going to get this kind of response,” said Dr. Ashley Batts Allen, associate dean of faculty and research in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNCP. “It communicated the importance of what we are doing here in the region.”

Crystal Wimes-Anderson, who experienced burnout as a longtime nurse, saw the specialized training as a chance for a fresh start.

“As a nurse, I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything because we see the same patients returning,” Wimes-Anderson said. “On this aspect, where you are a part of the process of making the drugs that can be life-changing––that will change my mindset regarding the health care field. It’s going to help me see the process and become more of an advocate for why you should take this medication.”