May 2, 2004
Teaching to the market's demands--Solano Community College plans to expand biotechnology program
By Matthew Bunk
FAIRFIELD -- Anticipating a need for technicians in the regional biotech industry, Solano Community College has decided to expand its 7-year-old biotech training program, administrators said Wednesday.
The college plans to hire a new biotech professor before the fall semester and is considering offering a second biotech class, said Dave Redfield, dean of math and science. He said the college also has been exploring a partnership with the science department at University of California, Davis, another training ground for regional biotech firms.
The goal is to double the number of students enrolled in the biotech program, said Jim DeKloe, biotech professor at SCC. In recent years, the program has averaged about 20 students a semester.
"We're trying to ramp up," DeKloe said. "Our pipeline hasn't been big enough to meet the needs of regional industry."
Since Genentech, the world's No. 2 biotech firm, announced plans for a $600 million expansion of its Vacaville manufacturing facility, college administrators have been scoping out opportunities to meet the company's future employment needs. Genentech estimated it would need 500 more workers by 2009 when the expansion becomes operational.
Chiron, another Vacaville biotech manufacturer, is also undergoing a $20 million expansion that will increase its workforce capacity.
In all there are four biotech companies in Vacaville, three of which recruit locally. Beyond that, SCC students have unequaled opportunities for job placement in the core of the Bay Area, which hosts the largest biotech cluster in the world.
"Not only are we thinking about how we can put 500 students here in the next five years, but we're looking to the Bay Area," DeKloe said. "A lot of the companies there are moving toward manufacturing, and their needs will be for technicians, not (research and development)."
DeKloe, who has in the past gone on sabbatical to probe the industry's employee needs, said he will be leaving again for a year to study with biotech businesses. He doesn't expect to teach this fall or in the spring semester.
His planned return to SCC next year - he says he has every intention of coming back - will then double the biotech teaching staff, said Dave Redfield, dean of math and science. The name of the new instructor will be released following hiring approval from the college Board of Trustees, Redfield said.
"The idea, while (DeKloe) is doing additional training, is to keep identical curriculum," Redfield said. Any new curriculum would be determined when DeKloe returns, he said.
The biotech curriculum at SCC focuses on production training for students who will go on to positions in manufacturing divisions. The college provides some research and development training, but those positions often require post-graduate degrees.
Some SCC biotech students enroll in the program after earning baccalaureate degrees because they lack technical training, DeKloe said.
"A lot of graduates, some from major universities, have knowledge but no skills," he said. "They get that training here and then go out and find a job, sometimes before they complete the program."
The biotech program adds equipment on an ongoing basis and has started to shift slightly toward research and development instruction. Some of the incubator equipment used in the biotech lab, a smaller version of the kind used by biotech firms, costs more than $200,000, DeKloe said.
"It really does replicate the industry," he said of the program he started in 1997 in what had been the old metal shop at the campus vocational building.
Continuous improvements have transformed the shop into a full-scale lab with room to expand. College spending, corporate donations and grants pay for equipment upgrades that amount to "tens of thousands of dollars" every year, DeKloe said.
Other small colleges have balked at introducing similar curriculum. Price intimidates them, despite more opportunities for student job placement, DeKloe said.
"We've done the obvious, which often is most elusive," he said. "We went to industry and asked what they needed in terms of training. We gave them a clean slate and they filled it."
Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or email@example.com.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
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