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.


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