Friday, December 07, 2007

Solano Community College's Amazing biotech lab & students


Amazing biotech lab, student
By Doug Ford
Article Launched: 11/24/2007 07:29:26 AM PST

Last week, I visited the Solano Community College Biotechnology Laboratory, as did other members of BioTech System, "a consortium of Solano, Yolo and Sacramento counties for training, education and mentoring." We went to the class where students learn the same process Genentech uses to produce medicines to treat cancer and other diseases. The students start a "batch" one day and staff the lab in 12-hour shifts until the process is completed, about three days later. They use miniature versions of the huge processing equipment that is the core of the Genentech facility in Vacaville.

The lab exercise is the final part of the course in which students demonstrate that they have learned enough to perform the highly exacting work required at Genentech and other pharmaceutical firms. This was the fourth time that I had visited the lab in 25 years. Each time, the facility has been substantially improved since my previous visit.

In the early years after Jim DeKloe started SCC's biotechnology program, it was not often that recent high school graduates enrolled in it. In fact, in the early days, many of the students had already earned bachelor's degrees, and some even had master's and doctoral degrees in fields that had not prepared them for good jobs. They had returned to the community college to learn a skill that would prepare them for a job with an adequate salary.

Through the great efforts of quite a number of people at SCC, other community colleges, many high schools, the Solano County Office of Education, the University of California, Davis, and several businesses that participate in BioTech System, that picture is changing. Now four Solano County high schools have programs that allow students to earn up to a year of college credit toward an associate's degree or a certificate in biotechnology manufacturing before they graduate.

I was greatly impressed by one young student I met in the lab. Harjot Sandhu's parents came to the Bay Area from Punjab, India. He was born in Fremont and grew up in Vallejo. After working in a post office for more than 10 years, his mother decided to attend Napa Valley College in the evenings to become a nurse. Because she suffers from multiple sclerosis and has difficulty writing, Harjot went with her to biology class to take notes while he was a sophomore at Hogan High School. When it came time for the first exam, the instructor suggested that he take it, too. After he passed it with a very good grade, the instructor helped him enroll in the course. He was on his way as a college student.

Harjot had been frustrated in high school because he was not allowed to enroll in advanced placement courses because of his age. Then someone told him that he could qualify as a high school graduate if he could pass the GED test. He checked it out, passed the test and then enrolled at Solano Community College at age 16. He has been there 31 2 years; completing everything he missed in high school plus a full college load. He also has earned the Biotech Certificate.

Because of his high performance at SCC, he was able to get an internship at the University of California, Berkeley, last summer. After he returned to SCC this fall, he was elected president of the Associated Students of Solano College. Having completed most of his requirements for graduation, he has taken several individual study courses in areas he is interested in.

Harjot didn't know about the SCC biotech program until after he had been on campus for a year and a half. When he did find out about it, he signed up because he wanted to be able to help people such as his mother, who had been misdiagnosed for several years before finding out that she had MS. He has applied to UC Berkeley, where he plans to study medicine in hopes of becoming a public health officer. He likes the biotech program so much that he very actively recruits others to get into it.

The author is retired from the U.S. Air Force, lives in Dixon and serves on the Solano County Board of Education.

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