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Van Hollen visits institute training Baltimore biotech workers

At the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland, the U.S. Senator talked life sciences and workforce training.

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen visits the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

At a lab in West Baltimore on Friday morning, students told U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen how they were dissecting DNA, and learning about stem cell research.
Leaders of the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland don’t see these as mere science projects. Executive Director Kathleen Weiss described throughout the morning how the work is part of the 20-year-old nonprofit’s efforts to prepare Baltimoreans for jobs in the biotech industry. Under the BTI BioSTART to Laboratory Associates Program, the nonprofit offers free training to underemployed and unemployed city residents who have a high school degree or GED out of its facility at 1101 W. Pratt St. The six-month program involves course work and a 100-hour internship.
“I went from having nothing to working for one of the most prestigious universities in the world,” said Candace King, a graduate of the program who was seeking more solid employment after a stint in the culinary industry. Always interested in science, she found BTI at a job fair, and went on to work at Johns Hopkins.
BTI graduates have gone to work for a range of biotech companies in the area. There’s PathSensors, an Inner Harbor–based company that builds products around pathogen detection technology, whose CEO Ted Olsen talked about the company’s work with the federal government. Duane Price, another grad, has gone on to work at the chemistry lab at McCormick, as well as vaccine and health companies.
“It wasn’t a job, it was a career,” he said of how he looked at the training. “And it’s been very helpful to me.”

To Van Hollen, who represents Maryland in D.C., BTI represents a few threads he is pushing for: more investment in life sciences and workforce development in STEM fields. Funding sources through the U.S. Department of Labor could help such work expand.
“I think the key is to provide more resources to grow places like BTI and to replicate this kind of programming,” Van Hollen said.

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