by Rebecca Rhodin
Montgomery County Community College has won an unprecedented third grant from the National Science Foundation to spur new educational programs for students entering the biomanufacturing field.
“You usually don’t get three in a row. We’re thrilled,” says Dr. Sonia Wallman, Principal Investigator for the project. “It allows us to complete what we started.”
The $2.7 million grant was received through the Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative (NBC2), which develops classroom materials and virtual training programs for students who plan to work in the biomanufacturing industry.
Biomanufacturing is the use of living organisms to manufacture products such as biopharmaceuticals and biofuels.
Graduates from the College’s biotechnology program have gotten jobs as quality control microbiology and biochemistry technicians and as upstream and downstream processing technicians at local biomanufacturing companies, according to Dr. Margaret Bryans, who is Co-Principal Investigator for NBC2.
With associated community colleges, called “hubs,” in several states, NBC2 also coordinates professional training for community college faculty and high school teachers.
The collaborative also maintains a website as a resource for information on biomanufacturing education and companies across the nation, and for promoting partnerships between these companies and local community colleges.
The grant, from NSF’s Advanced Technological Program, is entitled “NBC2: Growing a Regional and National Bioeconomy, One Locale at a Time.”
Wallman noted that the grant will allow NBC2 to attain nonprofit status and also decrease the organization’s need to apply for more grants.
Biomanufacturing is one of the few growing areas in the U.S. manufacturing sector “with many more new products in the pipeline,” according to Bryans.
As far as employment in the industry, she notes, “the future looks bright with a growing demand for graduates with biomanufacturing skills and knowledge.
The NBC2’s materials give students relevant, hands-on skills required by the workplace. For training on a large industrial scale, it has come up with web-based training modules in which students can master bioreactor computer control systems.
“Our industry partners are excited about this since it cuts down on the training time for new hires,” Wallman says.
Locally, NBC2 works with Merck, the Janssen unit of Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer as well as Lonza Biologics and Human Genome Sciences, well-known manufacturers of biopharmaceuticals.
Its partner schools are Bucks County Community College, Mount Wachusetts Community College in Massachusetts; Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana; Alamance Community College, North Carolina; Finger Lakes Community College, New York State; and MiraCosta College, California.
Since 2005, NBC2 has received three grants toward the development of its programs, the publication of textbooks, the mentorship of programs at other community colleges around the country and a four-day professional development conference called BIOMAN, which will be held next July at MCCC.
In addition, NBC2 hubs offer one-week workshops for high school teachers. Twelve local teachers attended at workshop at MCCC in June 2012.
During Phase 1, with a $3 million NSF grant, the initiative worked to produce curricula around the 10 major biomanufacturing job areas in which students are employed with an associate’s two-year degree.
In the second phase, when it received $2.69 million, NBC2 moved into crossover industries such as biofuels, in which fuel is produced from algae and corn. NBC2 also published the first “Introduction to Biomanufacturing” textbook, authored by 15 biomanufacturing industry scientists and managers.
In the third phase, NBC2 plans to create more hands on and theoretical curricular materials for other aspects of the growing bioeconomy.