Biomedical Careers Program Prepares Community-College Students for Success in Science

Biomedical Careers Program Prepares Community-College Students for Success in Science

April 22, 2003

(PHILADELPHIA-July 23, 2003) - Ten students were honored yesterday at The Wistar Institute for completing the award-winning Biomedical Technician Training Program. Jointly developed by The Wistar Institute and Community College of Philadelphia in 2000, the program, the first of its kind, prepares community-college students for research-technician careers in Philadelphia-area biomedical-research institutions and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

The third class to complete the program, this year's group was also the largest cohort of students to date. Already several of the students have secured biomedical research positions, a testament to the program's success.

"These students are well-prepared to contribute to the research goals of laboratories in industry and academia," says William H. Wunner, Ph.D., professor at The Wistar Institute and program director of the Biomedical Technician Training Program. "It's a challenging program, but these students have persevered and, as a result, have bright futures ahead of them, whether they choose to look for employment or continue their education."

The innovative two-year program professionalizes the skilled technical support positions that laboratories in the fast-growing biomedical sector of the economy rely upon. Traditionally, biomedical technician positions have been held by bachelor's-degree students. The Biomedical Technician Training Program offers associate's-degree students a structured path toward research-technician careers through core coursework at Community College of Philadelphia and supervised, hands-on laboratory experience in research institutions.

Paul Von Franzke, a Community College student who just completed the Biomedical Technician Training Program, says that the laboratory training and experience he gained through the program enhanced his understanding of what he learned in the classroom.

"The things we had learned about in class and in our textbooks were coming to life and really making sense," Von Franzke says. "As we went back to the classroom, the practical experience we had gained helped tremendously with our ongoing studies."

Along with Von Franzke, the students who completed the program this month are: Marie C. Bonagura, Julia E. Conicello, Cecil E. Floyd, Sabina Gurbanova, Benjamin M. Legum, Shannon L. O'Boril, Marcela Elizabeth Ochoa, Sara Vanessa Paramo, and Nhimoi Truong. Several have already secured permanent research technician positions, including Conicello and Floyd, who will be working at The Wistar Institute, and O'Boril, who will soon be joining a laboratory at Temple's Fels Institute. Also, a number of students in the program, including Gurbanova and Paramo, are continuing to work in their laboratory internship sites at Wistar. Other students are considering whether to look for employment or continue their studies.

Eight of the 11 students who completed the program in its first two years found research-technician positions, and the other three students are pursuing higher education beyond the associate's degree, Wunner says.

The Wistar Institute and the Fels Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Biology at Temple University, which joined the program in 2001, serve as training sites for the students. In addition, Cephalon Inc., based in West Chester, Pa., sponsors an internship for a student in the program.

The program is supported by The Coca-Cola Foundation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education and Department of Community and Economic Development, The Hassel Foundation, the National Cancer Institute-CURE program, and the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation.

In December 2002, the program was recognized as Educational Program of the Year at the 10th Annual Enterprise Awards, presented by the Eastern Technology Council in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The Wistar Institute is an independent nonprofit biomedical research institution dedicated to discovering the causes and cures for major diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases. Founded in 1892 as the first institution of its kind in the nation, The Wistar Institute today is a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center - one of only eight focused on basic research. Discoveries at Wistar have led to the development of vaccines for such diseases as rabies and rubella, the identification of genes associated with breast, lung, and prostate cancer, and the development of monoclonal antibodies and other significant research technologies and tools.