WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Six Forsyth Technical Community College biotechnology students are completing internships at Wake Forest University School of Medicine as part of their training.
They are part of Forsyth Tech’s biotechnology training program, an effort that aims at retraining workers for the new biotechnology jobs that are expected to come to Winston-Salem, particularly to the Piedmont Triad Research Park downtown.
“This program is attracting nontraditional adult students who have decided it’s worth the risk to make radical career shifts,” said Michael Tytell, Ph.D., professor of neurobiology and anatomy, who had a former elementary school teacher as an intern last year and currently has an intern who was in middle management in the furniture industry.
Aju Lekwauwa, a biotechnology instructor at Forsyth Tech, said that a number of the students in the two-year program formerly worked in the textile or tobacco industries. Some already have bachelor’s degrees. The biotechnology program leads to an associate degree. “Some will go on to four-year colleges, while many will go directly into biotechnology jobs,” he said.
The internships, a required part of the program, aim at giving the students hands-on experience, Lekwauwa said. This summer, he said, 18 students are in internships at various university and corporate research laboratories in the area, including the six at the School of Medicine.
The internships also help the students to determine whether biotechnology is really what they want to do, he said.
“John Cashwell had gone through two furniture company shutdowns when he concluded he needed a new career direction,” said Tytell. “His record-keeping and computer skills from that career plus what he has learned in the Forsyth Tech program have made it easy to start him on a section of a serious research project.”
Carol Milligan, Ph. D., associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy, also is supervising Cashwell’s internship. “The techniques he has been using are to detect specific proteins using antibodies,” she said. While the work is similar to that which would be done by graduate students early in their training, Cashwell “brings a different level of maturity and responsibility to the lab,” she said.
“The techniques, concepts and training I received at Forsyth Tech were right on target with current lab practices,” said Cashwell. “I was using this knowledge to do actual research.”
He said he was given tasks to perform that were part of Tytell’s current research efforts. “I became a vital part of the research and not a side project,” he said. “Everybody in the department made me feel like a part of their team and involved me in what they were doing by explaining their processes and techniques.”
Jane Strupe, a former elementary school teacher who completed the program last year, currently works in Milligan’s lab. “Her former experience, training from Forsyth Tech and dedication makes her a valuable addition to the research projects,” Milligan said.
Graduates of the Forsyth Tech program also will help relieve a chronic shortage of biotechnology technicians for researchers at the medical school.
“We always have had difficulty finding good technically trained people,” said David Friedman, Ph.D., deputy associate dean for research at the medical school. “This program is clearly going to be a benefit to the medical school.”
At Wake Forest, four of the interns are in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, one is in the medical genetics section of the Department of Pediatrics, and the sixth is combining her internship with a part-time job as a laboratory technician in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology.
“These are smart, highly motivated people,” said Friedman.
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About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,187 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.