Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Synergies -- and Options -- Flow From Community Colleges

As community colleges fill a critical void during troubled economic times – as the places students and workers alike seek much-needed training without the hefty time commitment and price tags of the four-year institutions – some amazing things are happening.

Because of their close ties to constituents, and the changing way employers and employees think about education and work, community colleges are forging an increasing number of synergistic relationships which speed people’s development of critical skills while supplying emerging industries with a steady stream of workers.

Soon-to-be BCCC Biotechnology graduate Agnieszka Tarasiewicz (left) and her classmate, Fresia Aguilar Kelley.

In this context, Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore recently held their first student orientation under the new BCCC Life Sciences Institute workforce training initiative, secured last year through $1.4 million in federal funding by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). The effort is particularly noteworthy because of where it is occurring – on UM’s downtown BioPark campus, home to both the BCCC institute and some of the world’s leading genetics and biotechnology firms.

For the first time in West Baltimore (and practically, anywhere), a major research university, a community college, students, faculty, researchers, scientists and members of the surrounding community including the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, a local Baltimore high school, have clustered together to achieve breakthroughs. The breakthroughs are scientific – genetics and other bioscience miracles which save lives; social, which revitalize the prospects of people in surrounding neighborhoods and forge healthy relationships between a great university and the people who live around it; and economic, when a burgeoning force like bioscience both energizes and reaps benefits from a busy urban academic and research center it helps to create.

Students enrolling in the BCCC Life Sciences Institute, though community college students studying for an associate degree, become a vital part of the University of Maryland community while remaining eligible for traditional scholarships and academic support which can assure success. And the results are positive: The college has seen a 33 percent increase in life science majors over the past year and a 73 percent retention rate. In fact, the number of degrees received has tripled in the program over the last five years. The BCCC Bioscience program also boasts a 58 percent successful persistence rate.

As part of the orientation event, dozens of biotech scientists and researchers engaged over 75 students majoring in biotechnology, environmental science and other science-related programs. Participating organizations included the Institute for Genome Sciences, SNBL Clinical Pharmacology Center and Paragon Bioservices, all of which reside at the BioPark.

Agnieszka Tarasiewicz, a fall 2010 associate degree graduate in biotechnology who came to the Life Sciences Institute from Poland, secured an internship study with Gliknik Inc., whose mission is to “discover, develop and bring to market truly novel therapies.” As part of her work, Agnieszka conducted research into antibodies and proteins using cell cultures. Gliknik is on the Life Sciences Institute advisory board.

Whether your goal is to succeed in better ways at work – or do well at a four-year university – community colleges can help show you the way. They’re economical, conveniently located and creatively nimble – in times requiring the capacity to summon all three.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

White House Summit on Community Colleges Holds Particular Meaning for Baltimore

BALTIMORE, Oct. 5, 2010 — President Obama’s national effort to spur college completion rates and the jobs which often accompany attendance at a community college met with a resounding welcome Tuesday in Baltimore, as students at Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) participated in a live webcast of the White House Summit on Community Colleges, hosted by Dr. Jill Biden.

The consensus among BCCC students: Community college has made all the difference in helping them tackle previously out-of-reach goals.

For Trina Peacher, BCCC accounting major, the biggest attribute of her education
has been the way it has helped her stay motivated and overcome obstacles.

“This place gives me focus, like a moving spirit,” she says. “I have found the education here to be so important to progressing toward my goals. Because BCCC also offers some of lowest tuition in Maryland, this has represented a huge value to me in terms of cost.”

BCCC accounting major Trina Peacher

Trina is on track to finish her Associate of Applied Science degree in accounting over the next year after taking some time at BCCC to figure out her career path.

Donte Johnson, 31, is a single father. He attended the White House webcast impressed at how much the subject matter applies to his own life.

Providing a one-word answer to a question at the very heart of Tuesday’s White House discussions – “how has community college equipped you to meet your most pressing concerns?” – Donte replied, “Biotechnology.”

BCCC biotechnology major Donte Johnson

He works as a pharmacy technician while pursuing biotechnology studies at BCCC’s state-of-the-art Life Sciences Institute (LSI) at the University of Maryland BioPark in West Baltimore (opened in fall 2009). LSI can connect students to “earn while you learn” laboratory assistant, internship and other work opportunities in some of the world’s leading genetics and bioscience firms, which share the same building as LSI and are only “an elevator ride away.”

Donte hopes to parlay his previous trade school education (where he learned how to be a pharmacy tech) into a four-year degree at the University of Maryland.

So what can a community college do to improve life in Baltimore? Donte says, “we need to focus on jobs that exist around here. We need a place which can connect us better to the community and the employers who make it up. President Obama is right to tap places like BCCC in this effort.”

For 2010 BCCC graduate and international student Ekaterina Muranova, community college was the most obvious pathway to exploring her passion in environmental science, and at BCCC she was active – as a member of the student Environmental Science Club, participant in campus-wide recycling projects and as an analyst in a water usage study at the college’s Inner Harbor campus.

BCCC environmental science graduate Ekaterina Muranova

Having emigrated from Russia a mere five years ago, Rina (as her friends like to call her) found a way to gain education in her field, meet people from all over the world (BCCC students hail from over 100 countries), and learn about other cultures.

“I’ve always liked science,” she says. “In Russia, making money was very important, but the way BCCC has promoted STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – I have learned all the ways environmental science can be a viable career option. We’ve got to make the planet a better place!”

During the run-up to her BCCC associate’s degree in environmental science, Rina assisted a reclamation project at Baltimore’s Carroll Park, a water treatment facility which had become polluted and clogged by trash thrown into storm sewers across Baltimore City. The material eventually found its way to the park. As Rina would discover, part of the reclamation process came to involve public education on the importance of proper waste disposal.

President Obama hails community colleges as “the unsung heroes of the American educational system.” Meet the unsung heroes of Baltimore City.