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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI biotech manufacturing program doubles enrollment

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Student interest mirrors industry demand for trained workers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – September 7, 2005 – Enrollment in the University of Rhode Island’s biotechnology manufacturing program has more than doubled for the 2005-2006 school year. Twenty-five students are registered for the fall semester, up from 12 last year.

“Interest in the program has increased dramatically, especially when people realize that they will be qualified for a full-time job paying a salary of about $40,000 after just one year of coursework and an internship,” said Dorothy Swift, coordinator of the program at URI’s Feinstein Providence Campus. “We get phone calls every week from potential students who want to learn more about the program.”

Launched in 2003, the biotechnology manufacturing curriculum is an intensive bachelor’s degree program designed to prepare students to work in the growing field of biotechnology. Classes are held in Providence and begin with two semesters of full-time study followed by a summer internship at a biotech company in the area. Coursework includes biology, chemistry, biotechnology methods, microbiology and human physiology. Following the internship, most students go to work full-time in the industry and complete their education as part-time students. Most of the students in the program are adults seeking a career change.

“Local biotech companies are becoming more and more interested in the program as well,” added Beth Zielinski-Habershaw, the program’s associate coordinator and an assistant professor of biotechnology. “We will have several new companies offering our students internships this year, including Avant Immunotherapeutics and GTC, and many companies have executives giving guest lectures in classes and providing other curricular support.”

The biotech industry in Rhode Island is growing significantly, and demand for trained workers is high.

A key element of the program is learning to use the equipment in the biotechnology manufacturing training laboratory at URI’s Providence campus. This facility houses a wide range of state-of-the-art technologies, including bioreactors used to grow cell cultures in quantity, a shaking incubator to aerate liquid cultures, a centrifuge to aid in collecting cultured cells, and other tools of molecular biology. Also included are protein separation and purification equipment, a laminar flow hood, autoclave, ultra-low temperature freezer, organic carbon analyzer, and two kinds of microscopes.

Every student who completes the first year of the program and is approved for an internship qualifies for $4,250 in tuition reimbursement – nearly 50 percent of the cost of tuition -- through the Rhode Island Tech Collective and a U.S. Department of Labor program that aims to train workers in new fields.

Biotechnology companies that have hosted student interns from the program are: Amgen of West Greenwich; Cambrex Corp. of Hopkinton; eMembrane, Inc. and EpiVax Inc., both of Providence; Hybrigene, Inc. of West Kingston; and Nephros Therapeutics Inc. and Neurotech USA, Inc., both of Lincoln. Avant Immunotherapeutics of Fall River, Mass. and GTC Biotherapeutics Inc. of Framingham, Mass. will host interns in 2006. Spherics, Inc. of Lincoln assisted with curriculum development.

Those interested in learning more about the program can attend one of the periodic information sessions at URI’s Feinstein Providence Campus. The next one will be held Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. For more information call the URI Special Programs Office at 401-277-5054.