Developing a Biotechnology Degree Program to Train Skilled Biotechnicians in Chicago

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This project aims to help fill the growing demand for biotechnicians in the Chicago area. Biotechnology has industrial applications that range from agriculture to manufacturing. It is also a crucial tool in the basic research development needed for such applications. The demand for biotechnicians is growing across the nation and these jobs pay higher than average wages. Regardless of its specific uses, the work of biotechnology involves common laboratory equipment, techniques, and regulatory record keeping. As a result, trained biotechnicians can readily transfer across different application areas, for example from basic research to biofuel manufacturing. As in many other STEM fields, the biotechnology workforce lacks diversity. However, a diverse workforce is an asset that can improve problem-solving and innovation. Consequently, in addition to increasing the number of trained biotechnicians, this project also focuses on broadening participation in biotechnology.

The project is led by Kennedy King College, a primarily Black institution in one of the most impoverished urban areas of Chicago. The project’s major goal is to develop a new associate degree program in Biotechnology. This degree program will enable students to gain biotechnology skills that are needed by regional industries. To this end, the project team will work with an industry advisory council to adapt and update existing courses to better align with industry standards. This advisory council will also help faculty remain current about industry needs, as well as provide students with internship opportunities. Research shows that course-based undergraduate research experiences can improve scientific thinking, scientific identity, and problem-solving skills. Therefore, the project team will develop a course-based undergraduate research experience in General Biology, a foundational course in the biotechnology program. Active learning pedagogies will be incorporated into courses within the program. The project team will also partner with local high school advisors to develop a biotechnology career pathway map and advisory tools to increase high school student interest in biotechnology. In addition, Kennedy King College will host an annual Biotechnology Career Day for high school students. To help recruit students from communities that are not yet equitably represented in biotechnology, the project team will establish a summer biotechnology program for high school students. Results from project evaluation will inform industry and education stakeholders about how to effectively modify and expand an existing foundation to decrease the time and expense needed to fully deploy a new degree. This project is funded by the Advanced Technological Education program that focuses on the education of technicians for the advanced-technology fields that drive the nation's economy.

Project PI: 
Clifford Wilson
Other Collaborators: 
Cindy Carlson, PhD (Kennedy-King College, City Colleges of Chicago) Craig Flowers, MD (Kennedy-King College, City Colleges of Chicago)
Grant number: DUE 2100370
Project Contact Info: 
Kennedy-King College, City Colleges of Chicago Chicago IL