On Aug. 4, nine Community College of Philadelphia students celebrated the completion of the Biomedical Technician Training Program (BTTP) at The Wistar Institute on the University of Pennsylvania campus. The ceremony represents far more than a graduation: With each certificate of completion comes new employment opportunities, career connections and the confidence that drives scientific research and innovation.
Success starts with the students, who complete the apprenticeship program over the course of two summers, gain intensive classroom and hands-on, laboratory experience, and leave prepared to work as research technicians within the robust biomedical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
“I feel proud and a little in awe right now,” said David Caref, a graduate whose mother traveled from North Carolina to attend the ceremony. Of the program he added: “It was intense, but it was worth it.”
Since the program’s inception in 2000, 130 students have received their certificates. Fifty-six of them have found full-time or part-time research assistant positions within the first year. In fact, Philadelphia-based Wistar has hired 31 of the program’s graduates.
The initiative’s success piqued the interest of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, which recently awarded The Wistar Institute a $199,385 Nontraditional Apprenticeship Grant to explore ways to expand the program and consider how to develop the novel apprenticeship program into a model that can be replicated across the state.
“This Nontraditional Apprenticeship Grant lets us explore the full potential of the program with the goal of making it more widely available,” said Dr. William Wunner, Wistar’s director of Outreach Education and Technology Training. “We can analyze how to implement, sustain and support a BTTP model for the entire region.”
The 2016 graduates are ready to harvest a field of varied science dreams. Caref eventually plans to transfer to Temple, earn a bachelor’s degree in Biology and work in a research lab, something he never would have considered previously.
Classmate Nhu Lu says the program has given her the confidence to do independent research, which will greatly help her studies at Temple University’s School of Pharmacy. Omotayo Ope, another 2016 graduate, came into the program with a bachelor’s degree in biology. During his studies, he worked at Meenhard Herlyn’s lab at Wistar, and will continue working there through the end of the year.
“I knew what I wanted to do, but until I went through the biomedical program, I didn’t understand what was required to get there, said Ope, who will now continue his education with
goal of becoming a cardiologist. “ It’s extremely important for medical school that you understand how science affects patients, and this program taught me that.”
Indeed, some of the biomedical technicians have also gone on to pursue doctorate degrees and have completed board-certified physician assistant programs.
These graduates are tomorrow’s leaders, Dr. Mary Anne Celenza, dean of the College’s Division of Math, Science and Health Careers, told family members.
“Destiny is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice. The students finishing today made a choice to move in a direction that allows them to choose their own destiny in a field that has a history of changing the world.”
The BTTP provides Community College of Philadelphia students with a career path to today’s diverse and highly skilled STEM workforce,” said Dr. Dario C. Altieri, president and CEO of The Wistar Institute. “If the BTTP expanded throughout the entire region, it has the potential to have a major and long-last impact.”