Forward Thinking

Biotechnology and Nanotechnology—Thriving Area Industries

Preparing Students for In-demand Careers

“This is the next generation of Community College of Philadelphia is embarking on a major expansion of key science programs in response to area employers’ shortage of skilled employees.

The College is developing a degree that will meet both student goals and the needs of local industries and organizations in health care, bioscience research and in specialized manufacturing, according to Mary Anne Celenza, Ph.D., dean of Math, Science and Health Careers. In particular, nanotechnology is affecting the research, development and manufacturing processes of many industries. The current workforce need and job growth potential is substantial in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia region has the second largest concentration of bioscience/life science workers in the nation, with more than 50,000 individuals in these industries. The pharmaceutical industry alone accounts for more than 30,000 jobs. If the many support industries related to the life sciences are included, the field employs some 276,000 individuals in the region, comprising 11.4 percent of total employment and $15.5 billion in gross output, according to a 2005 Milken Institute study.

The College currently offers Chemical Technology and Engineering Science degrees, as well as a certification in Biomedical Technician Training. The Biomedical program is a cooperative venture for hands-on laboratory training with The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia. The College’s goal is to have approval by 2008 for a new degree in Applied Science and Advanced Technology that would have the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of students and the industry. Common core courses and specific areas of concentration will include process control technology, biotechnology/bioprocessing and nanomanufacturing.

According to Celenza, the College’s partnerships with area organizations and experts “put us in a good place to offer these kinds of programs.” These partnerships include Wistar; the Philadelphia Academies; the Science Center; and the Life Science Career Alliance, of which College President Stephen M. Curtis is the former chair.

The career options for graduates of these programs are as varied as the technology that is being developed to serve the life sciences. Currently, medical, clinical and biological technicians are in high demand in Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board.

The definitions of these fields also demonstrate the breadth of career possibilities. The U.S. Department of Labor identifies biotechnology as an occupation that seeks to understand and use the fundamental processes of cellular life to develop more effective medicines, consumer products and industrial processes.

cell photo

Nanotechnology involves the study and manipulation of matter that measures one billionth of a meter. At this size, common materials behave differently. Carbon can become stronger than steel, and gold will melt at room temperature and can be made into new structures such as nanotubes, used in electronic equipment and auto parts, and fullerenes, carbon spheres that are now widely used in cosmetics. It is this type of research that has the greatest potential impact on genetic, cell biology and chemical and electronic research.

“As the industry grows, niche companies, such as those based at the Science Center, will thrive and eventually be bought by larger companies, creating more job opportunities,” said Chad Womack, a scientist, biotechnology company founder and vice president for Educational and Training Initiatives at the Science Center in Philadelphia. He is leading the coordination of bioscience programs among the School District of Philadelphia, Community College of Philadelphia, other higher education partners and the growing bioscience industries in the city and region. Womack added, “I see Community College of Philadelphia as a critical part of this process because of its training programs that provide the skilled graduates companies at all levels need to succeed.”