McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member J. Christopher Post, M.D., Ph.D, F.A.C.S. (pictured), knew as a researcher the difficulty finding qualified bio-technicians for the region's health research labs. As a pediatric ear, nose, and throat surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital who leads its Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, his clinical practice on the North Side put him in regular contact with mothers from some of the community's poorest households. It always struck him how these women so quickly grasped procedures needed to help their children with maladies such as congenital airway problems and chronic lung disease.
"They were smart ladies," Dr. Post said. "They showed me that by what they could do for their children. They just lacked an education."
That's when an idea hit him: If given a shot at a college degree, might these women be part of the answer? And in doing so, could they be role models for their neighbors and their children?
"Make them people with jobs," he said. "Not just biggie-sizing french fries."
Soon, the Biotech Workforce Collaborative was born. Through the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, the unique partnership—with its partners Allegheny General Hospital’s Allegheny-Singer Research Institute, the Community College of Allegheny County, and the Northside Leadership Conference—intends to address the region’s biotechnology workforce shortfall by tapping a promising resource—underserved women.
Today’s program includes an unlikely group of college aspirants, and that is exactly the point. The program's creators handpicked women whose education had been derailed by economic hardship, family obligations, and personal turmoil. Among them, the 22 women who enrolled last fall in the program's inaugural class have 41 children and an average yearly household income of $7,300, well below the poverty level. Many were victims of abuse and half have a family member who's been in jail. Half the women are white and half are black. Several dropped out or are switching to another program, but after two semesters, the 16 remaining collectively hold a grade average of 2.89 -- just under a B.
Pittsburgh is recognized internationally for making significant contributions to the advancement of medicine. However, there currently exists a shortage of skilled biotechnology technicians. The Biotech Workforce Collaborative apprenticeship program provides education and hands-on training to underserved women who are interested in becoming life sciences/biotechnology laboratory technicians. The program specifically targets women whose education and career opportunities may have been interrupted by economic or family-related issues.
Participating women receive full tuition assistance, books, use of laptop computers, laboratory/clinical training, and career development and job placement assistance. The 3-year program includes coursework in biotechnology and bioethics, and an internship at a local research facility. The Community College is developing the curriculum and providing the classroom instruction. Participants will earn an associate’s degree.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (07/06/08)
Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative: Biotech Workforce Collaborative