Montgomery College Awarded $350,000 from National Science Foundation to Advance Biopharmaceutical Technician Education

by Patrick Herron

Per Montgomery College:

Montgomery College has been awarded a $350,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for its project, New to ATE: Improving Biopharmaceutical Technician Education with Cell and Gene Therapy Credentials (NSF 2155187), that begins July 1, 2022.

The Biopharmaceutical Technician Education project will address the rapidly-growing demand in the Montgomery College service area for biotechnology technicians, especially in cell and gene therapy. The principal investigators will work closely with industry partners to develop a cell and gene therapy course, a cell and gene therapy certificate program, and two micro-credentials that document specific cell and gene therapy skills. The course and certificate program will produce workforce-ready cell and gene therapy technicians, and the micro-credentials will establish a baseline skillset for entry-level employment.

The NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program is the premiere source of funding focused on community colleges by NSF. The project goal is to increase the number of work-ready biopharmaceutical technicians, especially in the emerging field of cell and gene therapy. The project has three objectives:

1.    Create a four-credit course, Principles of Cell and Gene Therapy Technology and corresponding lab, leading to a novel Cell and Gene Therapy certificate.

2.    Collaborate with industry to develop two micro-credentials, representing a standardized recognition for a high degree of proficiency for a specific skill. We will target two in-demand entry-level skills that are required of biotechnicians: micropipetting and aseptic technique for mammalian cell culture.

3.    Increase enrollment of local high school students, nontraditional students, and underrepresented and underserved students in the Biotechnology, Biomanufacturing, and Cell and Gene Therapy credit and certificate programs, with a focus on the new Cell and Gene Therapy certificate.

Dr. Jermaine F. Williams, president of Montgomery College, lauded the award, noting that, “This generous NSF award to Montgomery College represents a milestone in biotechnology education and workforce development: ATE will expand opportunities for local residents to gain entry to in-demand jobs in biopharmaceuticals. The program’s outreach to underserved populations, and its focus on developing new curricula and certifications, will strengthen students’ readiness for employment and enhance their potential career pathways.”

The project principal investigator (PI) is Dr. Collins Jones, Co-PIs are Professor Padmavathi Tangirala, Dr. Lori Kelman, all professors in Montgomery College’s Biotechnology program, and Dr. James Sniezek, Instructional Dean of Chemical and Biological Sciences.

Dr. Jones, principal investigator, has initiated numerous curricular innovations, and has adapted the College’s program to be responsive to employer/industry needs. Professor Tangirala, co-principal investigator, acquired significant industry experience before joining the MC faculty. Dr. Kelman, co-principal investigator, has substantial teaching experience, and is editor of BIOS, the journal of the Beta Beta Beta Biological Society, and works closely with Montgomery County Public Schools through her participation in the Montgomery County Collaboration Board Program Advisory Council for Biotechnology.

The program will focus on recruiting students in the East County area, and also will provide a 10-week biotechnology boot camp for MCPS high school counselors and science faculty.

Typically, NSF awards grants to about 25% of applicants in the Division of Education and Human Resources each year, meaning that applicants often apply more than once. The College’s BTE proposal was approved on first submission.

The proposal was developed as part of MC’s participation in the Mentor-Connect program (NSF 184085). The team that developed the proposal included the project leadership and Dr. Patricia Maloney, Manager of Grants and Sponsored Programs.

For further information, see the NSF project abstractor contact Dr. Jones at collins.jones@montgomerycollege.edu.

About Montgomery College
Montgomery College is a public, open admissions community college with campuses in Germantown, Rockville, and Takoma Park/Silver Spring, plus workforce development/continuing education centers and off-site programs throughout Montgomery County, Md. The College serves nearly 54,000 students a year, through both credit and noncredit programs, in more than 100 areas of study.

About The National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” NSF is vital because we support basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.

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