UMBC-Scientific Bioprocessing, Inc. Collaboration Sparks Idea to Create More Hands-On Biotech Experience for Students

At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), Dr. Annica Wayman, Associate Dean for Shady Grove Affairs in the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, is seeking industry partners to support the launch of a new undergraduate degree program for UMBC students that would provide real-world, hands-on biotech experience. 

Wayman directs UMBC’s Translational Life Sciences Technology (TLST) and the Master of Professional Studies in Biotechnology programs at UMBC’s Universities at Shady Grove (USG) campus. She works with aspiring undergraduate students every day and understands that delivering hands-on, experiential biotech learning opportunities is the key to keeping the region’s bioprocessing and scientific talent pipeline full. The TLST program “… combines the theory of a traditional life science degree with hands-on, real-world applications of the process for turning scientific discoveries into life-saving solutions.”

At BioBuzz we’ve written extensively about workforce development as a critical component of the BioHealth Capital Region’s (BHCR) growth strategy. Attracting c-suite executives and leaders from other bio clusters while sustaining the talent pipeline coming out of the region’s university network is a critical part of this strategy. 

UMBC’s potential new degree program, with its hands-on biotech experience focus, would be a boon to the region’s workforce development efforts.

“I’ve always been interested in finding ways we can get science and engineering to have more impact. This is what led me to this program at UMBC where we are trying to better train students for the biotech translation space. What drives me is using my technical background in high impact areas,” stated Wayman.

“We want to give our TLST students a multi-disciplinary, hands-on, applied understanding of the field. In our program, students not only learn biology and chemistry, but they’re also learning about bioinformatics, engineering, and biomanufacturing. Having the private sector involved is one of the pillars of this new program,” she added.

An idea for private sector involvement in this new UMBC biotech degree program sprung to life when Wayman reconnected with fellow Georgia Tech alumni Dr. Sandy Williams, who is a bioengineering expert and the Marketing & Product Development Manager at Scientific Bioprocessing, Inc. (SBI). SBI is an industry leader in cell culture sensing technology that provides research scientists with real-time monitoring of cell culture pH and Dissolved Oxygen (DO). 

Wayman invited Williams to guest lecture in the program’s Bioprocess Design and Controls class. SBI also provided the program with an ID Developer’s Kit that will enable students in future classes to use SBI’s sensors and have a hands-on bioprocessing experience. This semester, SBI’s sensors played a central role in Wayman’s undergraduate students’ final paper, where they were tasked with developing a bioprocess for an existing biopharma product. 

“This was such a fun opportunity to give back and hopefully inspire the next generation of bioprocessing engineers. It’s so important for students to have a real opportunity to actually do the work and not just learn about product development and manufacturing out of a textbook. It was our pleasure to provide Annica’s students with the sensors they needed to have this experience and challenge their thinking in their final paper project,” stated SBI’s Williams.

“The partnership with SBI was an opportunity to pilot new ways to involve the private sector in the TLST courses. Using SBI’s sensors will allow our students to have a more tangible educational experience. SBI’s sensors are a great pedagogical tool and this semester the sensors allowed our student teams to characterize the bioprocess and scale it up for a known product. Basically, they were tasked with taking a concept all the way through production scale using SBI’s sensors,” stated Wayman. 

SBI’s participation in the TLST program is going so well that Wayman and Williams hope to replicate the process with other industry partners. 

The TLST program already requires every student to complete 240 internship hours. Wayman sees building out industry-UMBC partnerships as a means of expanding internship opportunities at companies and within the TLST program itself. Several TLST interns were highlighted in BioBuzz’s Summer Internships Feature this year.

“I envision something where we learn about a partner’s innovative technology to advance product development and biomanufacturing, create student internship research projects to test applications of the technology, and use this technology as a teaching tool in the classroom,” stated Wayman. “This will get students excited about a career in biotech in areas that they may not have been aware of before.”  

“One of the biggest workforce challenges in our region is building student awareness about biotechnology careers. There are still so many students out there that love science and want to help people but only think of becoming a doctor, nurse, or dentist,” shared Wayman. “They don’t realize that the equipment used by these professions is created by biotech companies.”

“We also need to create awareness in the industry about opportunities to collaborate. We’re actively trying to improve UMBC’s connections to biotech companies. We don’t want these connections to wax and wane; we want them to be sustained. Awareness is key but we also need to close the skills gap. Students might understand the scientific fundamentals but they don’t really have the hands-on lab skills they need to succeed. We’re trying to build out more opportunities to develop these skills in the TLST program and in partnership with industry,” she added. “We are taking a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching and training our students so that they can apply their skills in the real world.” 

“In the end, we’re trying to show our students what exciting opportunities exist in the biotechnology industry. The more students have hands-on experiences and get exposed to the many facets of biotechnology, the more excited they get. That’s what this potential new degree program is all about,” said Wayman. “We want our students to be prepared and have great job prospects when they leave us. The region needs that next generation of talent to sustain itself over the long haul.”

Wayman and UMBC are on the verge of adding another excellent biotech workforce degree and training program focused on hands-on biotech experience to the BHCR.

If you’re interested in learning more about UMBC’s TSLT program or partnering with UMBC and Wayman, email awayman@umbc.edu. 

For more information about SBI’s optical sensors application in cell culture and bioprocessing, visit scientificbio.com.

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Steven Surdez

Principal at StoryCore
Steve has over 20 years experience in copywriting, developing brand messaging and creating marketing strategies across a wide range of industries, including the biopharmaceutical, senior living, commercial real estate, IT and renewable energy sectors, among others. He is currently the Principal/Owner of StoryCore, a Frederick, Maryland-based content creation and execution consultancy focused on telling the unique stories of Maryland organizations.