VGCC Biotech program set for growth, with federal grant support
Vance-Granville Community College is poised to expand its Biotechnology workforce training and play a leading role in preparing talented students for one of the state’s growing industries, following the announcement that the college will receive approximately $1.75 million as part of a federal grant.
VGCC is included in a statewide consortium of colleges, universities, and other strategic partners like the NC Biotechnology Center and the NC Community College System’s BioNetwork, which collectively received a grant award totaling nearly $25 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
VGCC is one of ten community colleges participating in the “NC BioBetter” Project funded by the grant.
Stewart Lyon, VGCC’s program head for Bioprocess/Biotechnology, expressed his excitement about what the grant will mean for his program and his students.
“About half of this grant will allow VGCC to purchase new biotech laboratory equipment and additional lab supplies, so that students can get the up-to-date training they need,” Lyon explained. “We will be able to replace some older equipment in our existing biotech lab on our Franklin County Campus and expand into a new space on the campus for a second biotech lab. We may be able to expand our program to include daytime and evening offerings.”
The grant will also provide funds to support new faculty and staff positions for three years, he added. “Specifically, we are looking to hire one additional full-time biotechnology instructor as well as a full-time ‘pathway navigator,’ who will be an intensive advisor for the program,” Lyon said. “The navigator will reach out to the community, help new students through the onboarding admissions process, provide academic advising and mentorship throughout the students’ time in the program, and finally help complete their journey with resume prep and job search assistance as they prepare to graduate.”
Lyon noted that this project is designed to increase the number of North Carolinians who are trained and ready to fill positions in the biopharmaceutical industry workforce, with a specific intent to expand opportunity to under-represented populations in that field, including women and people of color. “This is a significant focus, but everyone enrolled in the program will equally benefit from the resources of the grant, including the faculty and staff it provides,” he said.
VGCC enjoys strong partnerships, particularly in the Franklin County area, which are helping to promote biotech and life sciences.
“Franklin County is committed to contributing our resources and dedication to having a ready and prepared workforce,” said Kim Denton, the County Manager. “This grant award will help to advance the county’s economic development goals by providing critical funding for the Bioprocess program at Vance-Granville Community College, which supports vital industries in the county.”
Dr. Danyelle Parker, Executive Director of Secondary Education and Career & Technical Education (CTE) for Franklin County Schools, explained that VGCC and the school system are already collaborating on several initiatives related to life sciences.
“The main new activity that we are promoting is our new STEM Magnet program at Louisburg High School,” Parker said. “Part of our magnet program involves students pursuing a college or career pathway. One of the three pathways is the STEM Focused Program Pathway offered at VGCC. Specifically, the programs offered are Medical Office Administrative Assistant, Bioprocess Technology, and Information Technology/Cyber Security Support. Right now, the primary focus has been on establishing the Bioprocess Technology program.”
She added that in the 2023-2024 school year, the magnet program will become available to high school students throughout Franklin County. “We’re very excited for this opportunity and believe this is a way to make Bioprocess Technology available to more students,” Parker said. “We hope to grow the program and incorporate work-based learning, such as field trips and job shadowing with area Bio/Life Sciences companies. With growing demands in this field, we believe Bioprocess Technology is an excellent career opportunity for our students, and we are thrilled to be partnering with VGCC for this endeavor.”
Among the area’s major life sciences employers is Novozymes, which has a facility in Franklinton, not far from VGCC’s Franklin County Campus. The wider region is home to many other biomanufacturing and biopharma companies.
“Vance-Granville Community College is delighted to be part of a coalition designed to increase access to good paying jobs in the Life Sciences sector,” said Dr. Rachel Desmarais, the president of VGCC. “Working together with partners from government agencies, private industry, K-12 schools, other community colleges and universities, VGCC is excited to bring this spectacular vision to life in our region.”
In the Bioprocess Technology credit (curriculum) program, VGCC offers a certificate, which can be completed in six months; a diploma program, which takes about one year, and the two-year Associate in Applied Science degree. All these options are eligible for federal financial aid to qualified students. In addition, there is a BioWork Process Technician continuing education course offered periodically, in a format that takes less than one semester to complete. Prospective students can register now for “Bioprocess Practices” ( BPM 110 ), which starts Jan. 6, 2023, in a hybrid format, combining some online coursework with in-person instruction at the Franklin County Campus.