Diversity & Inclusion
Funding / Jobs / Science / STEM / Workplace culture

Wistar Institute is shortening and scaling its biomedical tech training program

The institute is making a few changes to the program to get more students on a quicker timeline to employment as lab technicians or research assistants.

A student of the Biomedical Technician Training Program from Wistar Institute works in a lab. (Photo courtesy of the Wistar Institute)

When Technical.ly checked in on the 20-year-old Biomedical Technician Training Program in fall 2019, it had graduated 162 students with specialized lab skills, training and mentorship.

But a new grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will allow the Wistar Institute program to expand and update, including an expedited timeline to get folks job-ready sooner, the org said in an announcement.

The program for Community College of Philadelphia students previously included two summers of training and a 12-week internship. Most students are simultaneously pursuing an associate’s degree, said Brian Keith, the research institute’s dean of biomedical studies, in 2019.

“It’s one of the only programs I know of that’s engaging a population of bright and dedicated students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to get involved in biosciences,” Keith told Technical.ly then. When students leave the program, they do so with mentored experience, which is highly valued as technician — “and they’re snapped up fast.”

Now, the $599,969 grant will go toward expanding the program with new curriculum and with the inclusion of more community colleges. Through the new program, called Expansion, Curriculum Evolution, and Enhancement during BioTechnician Training (ExCEEd BTT), students will follow an accelerated, one-summer, pre-apprenticeship training including a hands-on orientation at Wistar and two full-time, mentored laboratory experiences in academia and industry.

“If there is one thing that we learned from the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that we need more science, more scientists and more innovators in STEM careers and the life sciences,” said Dario Altieri, Wistar’s president and CEO, in a statement. “Like we always say at Wistar, science is the answer, and we are absolutely delighted that the NSF has recognized our decades-long impact and track record of excellence in these areas.”

Those who graduate from the new program will be immediately prepared for roles as lab technicians and may continue on to Wistar’s Biomedical Research Technician Apprenticeship, the org said. And the original goal of the program persists: getting more students outside of a traditional four-year science degree into life-sustaining roles in the industry. (“Life-sustaining” as relating to STEM jobs is something we’ve heard, too, from Phil Brooks, the director of STEM workforce development at the University City Science Center.)

The scaled-up program aims to train more students in a condensed timeline. It also has goals of recruiting more students from other community college partners and developing a project-based curriculum tailored to teach these biotech skills and engage students from underrepresented groups.

“The most effective way to increase diversity in research is to provide training opportunities for everyone and to support students from underrepresented groups meet their full potential and access career paths in the life sciences,” said Kristy Shuda McGuire, Wistar’s associate dean of biomedical studies and principal investigator of the grant.

Companies: Wistar Institute / Community College of Philadelphia / National Science Foundation

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