Growth at Frederick Community College’s Biotechnology Program Mirrors Thriving Industry

Frederick Community College’s (FCC) Biotechnology Program continues to forge new partnerships and grow its capabilities to support Frederick’s thriving biotechnology industry.

With critical support from Frederick County’s government and a local biotech partner, FCC’s Biotechnology Program recently secured a key partnership with the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) and added new lab space. The NIIMBL partnership puts FCC at the table with global biopharma companies like AstraZeneca (also in Frederick), Merck, CelGene, Genentech, Pfizer and others to be part of the national conversation around innovation in biomanufacturing.

The Biotechnology Program, formerly known as the Bioprocessing Program, is led by Dr. Judy Staveley, who became program director in 2016.

“This is my third year with the program, and I’ve been at FCC teaching forensics and biology for about 12 years. We’ve made great strides in making the program more hands-on. All students get to directly apply techniques in the lab. Our program is still evolving and local industry and Frederick have been a huge boost to our program’s development and growth,” stated Staveley.

Staveley came to a program that had only six students back in 2016. She now has 48 students enrolled in the program. The original core group were members of FCC’s Biotech Club and went on to become community college innovation challenge finalists in a National Science Foundation (NSF) competition, finishing in the top 10 nationally.

This success sparked new interest in the program while all six of Staveley’s pupils were hired by local, prominent biotech companies post-graduation, with several now holding management positions. In 2018, the program had a 100% job placement rate, with all of its two-year degree graduates securing industry employment, some earning over $50,000 a year with full benefits and tuition reimbursement.

Becoming one of the first three NIIMBL members in Frederick County is a pivotal move just completed during Staveley’s tenure. FCC joins Frederick’s Rooster Bio, Inc. and AstraZeneca as founding Frederick County NIIMBL members.  

While FCC’s NIIMBL membership is brand new, potential membership benefits are emerging and the expectation is that more opportunities will arise in the near future. NIIMBL is a highly selective, public-private membership organization that is “…dedicated to advancing biopharmaceutical manufacturing innovation and workforce development.” Initially backed by $70 million in funding from the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), its funding has grown to about $140 million. The organization offers a wide range of services to the biopharmaceutical industry, including logistical and financial support to workforce development training and education programs.

FCC’s partnership with NIIMBL represents a golden opportunity for the program and Frederick to secure critical new funding, and expand local, regional and national industry partnerships. Frederick’s Rooster Bio, Inc., for example, recently received two grant funding awards from NIIMBL, quickly demonstrating the value of membership.

“Frederick County has been a driving force behind some of our most recent program initiative successes, including our NIIMBL membership. The County gets it,” said Staveley.

Frederick’s economic development team was instrumental in providing support during the NIIMBL application process while also helping to secure the required funding. FCC’s Biotechnology Program is currently working to secure NIIMBL funding in collaboration with the Biotechnology Research and Education Program (BREP) at the University of Maryland. The FCC-BREP collaboration seeks workshop/training funding and has entered Phase II, where they will co-present their project poster to earn entry into Phase III.

Frederick County’s government also enabled the creation of new promotional messaging and channels for both FCC’s Biotechnology Program and careers in biotechnology more generally. Earlier this year, for example, some of the new promotional pieces were distributed to parents and students in all of the local high schools.

In recent years, and in partnership with Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR), the County’s Workforce Development Program has also been instrumental to creating paid internship opportunities for FCC’s Biotechnology Program students.

“More manufacturing companies are moving in and for the bioprocessing side of things, we have more organizations interested in moving to Frederick. We have our startups, government research labs, and Fort Detrick, among others, so there are lots of positives and new challenges for the region,” said Staveley.

“Finding and developing talent at all levels to support Frederick’s growth is critical. Our program will play an important workforce development role as will our existing and emerging partnerships with local industry, Frederick County and the state of Maryland” she added.

The program has also recently added new lab space thanks to its partnership with VaLogic, a Frederick-based biotech organization. VaLogic had hired two of Staveley’s graduates (there are now four FCC program alumni at VaLogic). Over time the relationship grew and VaLogic was so pleased with the workers Staveley’s program had produced they decided to provide lab space at its facility.

“We started discussing our program needs and our struggles for a tissue culture lab at our advisory board meetings. VaLogic’s CEO, Bill Robertson, who is an advisory board member, stepped up and said his company wanted to help. They were so happy with what we had produced for VaLogic they gave us the lab space we needed,” said Staveley.

The tissue culture lab gives FCC Biotechnology Program students direct access to a real, working lab each week. Students perform experiments and follow compliance regulations while working side-by-side with VaLogic staff members. The partnership between the program and VaLogic is a win-win scenario: the program gains hands-on access to an industry lab while VaLogic keeps its workforce development pipeline producing the talent it needs to sustain growth.

FCC’s Biotechnology Program’s partnerships with NIIMBL, local and state support networks and VaLogic point to a bright future for the program as it pursues new ways to improve workforce development in support of a burgeoning Frederick biotech and life science community.  

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