Monday, September 8, 2008

SCC's biotech classes draw crowds

SCC's biotech classes draw crowds
By Nika Megino | Daily Republic | September 05, 2008

Solano Community College biotech students Lea Kelley, Noelia Lizarraga and Virginia Santos, left to right, check the progress of cells they are growing in their biomanufacturing class Friday morning. Photo by Brad Zweerink

FAIRFIELD - Room 1852 at Solano Community College could easily be mistaken for a biotechnology laboratory.

Inside, dozens of students dressed in white protective suits monitor the growth of bacterial cells as part of their biomanufacturing class, Cell Culture and Protein Recovery.

The program, which the college launched in 1997, trains students to work as production technicians in the biotechnology industry, instructor Jim DeKloe said.

'We emulate the job as much as we can,' DeKloe said. 'We have about $1 million worth of equipment.'

Enrollment in the program has doubled in the past three years, DeKloe said, and is expected to double again in the next two years. That is understandable, he added, because the biotechnology industry is expected to need 150,000 additional workers by 2015.

'It's really a viable job for a lot of people,' said Dave Redfield, SCC's dean of math and science.

Students with a strong understanding of biology can earn a certificate of achievement and an associate's degree in biotechnology in one to two years, DeKloe said.

That timetable and the fact biotechnology is a booming industry attracted Selma Olsen to the program.

After years of working with the physically disabled, Olsen decided it was time for a career change. Olsen earned a bachelor's degree in biology in 1998 and decided to attend SCC with the intention of pursuing a nursing career.

Once she learned of the biotechnology program, however, she was hooked.

'I saw how exceptional this program is,' Olsen said. 'I felt this was the fast track and my primary interest is in biology.'

SCC instructors work with local biotech companies to learn what those companies expect from employees. That explains why the classroom looks more like a biotech lab.

The instructors also collaborate with the four local high schools that offer biotech classes: Rodriguez, Vacaville, Benicia and Hogan in Vallejo. Nearly 200 Rodriguez students are enrolled in biotech classes, said Kevin Scully, who teaches biotech at the school.

See the complete story at the Daily Republic online.