Wistar’s Specialized Biomedical Training Program Graduates Hired for Jobs in Life Science Sector
Life science training program connects adults with a high school diploma or GED to high-skill careers in regional laboratory environment.
PHILADELPHIA — (MARCH 22, 2023) — Thirteen people, sitting with broad smiles in the first few rows at Iovance’s café-turned-graduation space, are the inaugural spring graduating class of the 2023 Biomedical Technician Training (BTT) Program.
They came from an applicant pool of more than 430 with diverse backgrounds and varying levels of formal education. All the chosen applicants share one striking trait: the determination and belief in their ability to develop a skillset in aseptic manufacturing and seize career opportunities in the region’s high-tech and evolving life science sector.
The new graduates spent 22 concentrated weeks—while juggling the demands of other jobs and their personal lives—the first 12 at The Wistar Institute where, under the guidance of Dr. David Zuzga in the classroom, and Dr. Kristy Shuda McGuire in the Training Lab, they finetuned the skills needed to be technicians in biomedical laboratories. They then spent the last 10 weeks as interns at Iovance Biotherapeutics and developed specialized competencies to become aseptic manufacturing technicians.
“Almost three years ago to the day, we had an initial meeting with West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) on our shared vision to extend the BTT Program to adults in Philadelphia,” said Dr. Kristy Shuda McGuire. “We are so proud to be here today and thank our partners and funders, including the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, Philadelphia Works, Inc., and others. Most importantly, thank you to all our participants. We hope you have learned a lot; we know we have learned a lot from you.”
Graduation is a symbol of exiting one stage of life to begin another. But many of these students won’t exit Iovance; they begin new jobs at Iovance. Others will explore opportunities at area biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and academic labs as biomedical technicians.
“You are pioneers—the first to enter this program, committed to education, professional and personal development, and expanding your reach personally and professionally,” said Cait Garrozo, executive director of West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI), a workforce development organization that helps Philadelphians connect with top jobs in the region.
After the ceremony, graduates and their teaching mentors snapped photos together and shared special moments from the experience.
“I was slinging lattes and making cappuccinos and now I’m working with cancer cells,” said Veton “Vee” Meas, student graduation speaker. “This program is so inclusive, awesome and insightful. For me, it was nerve-racking in the lab because I wanted to make sure that I was doing the right thing. Most of my science experience was in high school where I had the opportunity to shadow doctors and was interested in healthcare. Due to personal setbacks in life, I couldn’t hone those skills back then. Now I can tap into that former experience because of this opportunity, and it felt like the universe aligned for me since I always had a love for science.”
These thirteen completed intense scientific training and gained specialized skills leading to careers in our region’s growing life science industry.
“They pushed and challenged us to dive into who we are and take on this responsibility to stick with the program for 22 weeks and now I have the opportunity and ability to develop and grow my professional skills,” said graduate Nyim Greenwood.
“The most important takeaway for me from this experience is the feeling of dedication from us, the graduates, and gratitude to the people behind the program—from Wistar, WPSI, and Iovance,” said graduate Martha Torres-Cárcamo. “We wouldn’t be here without them because it was an intense 22 weeks program but their support on a day-by-day basis was unbelievable. The industry is growing and we feel prepared for the task.”
For their generous support, The Wistar Institute gratefully acknowledges Philadelphia Works, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry PA Smart Program, GSK, and Justamere Foundation.
The Biomedical Technician Training Pre-apprenticeship Program was started in May 2000 by The Wistar Institute and Community College of Philadelphia to prepare students for career opportunities as research assistants / technicians in biomedical laboratories. The Program became a state-registered pre-apprenticeship in 2019. This Spring 2023 cohort was offered in partnership with West Philadelphia Skills Initiative. Students completed professional development with West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, a Life Science Foundations course and hands-on Laboratory Orientation at Wistar, and an externship at Iovance Biotherapeutics.
The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, Wistar has held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute since 1972. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. wistar.org.