Housed at the University of Rhode Island’s Providence campus and launched in 2002, the Biotechnology Manufacturing Program trains students to enter the state’s burgeoning biotechnology industry and is directed by Edward Bozzi, a professor at the Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies. He has helped grow interest in the program and watched as enrollment has increased from eight-person classes to now more than 20 students enrolling each year – including individuals who have military backgrounds.
The program has also gained notoriety among local companies. Those who have hosted URI Biotechnology Manufacturing Program interns include Neurotech, Agcore Technologies, Kineteks, ProThera Biologics, Vitae Industries, Labonachip, EpiVax and InCytu, among others. Now in its 15th academic year, the program has trained more than 250 students to enter the local and regional biotechnology industries.
PBN: As the URI Biotechnology Manufacturing Program celebrates its 15th year, what are its biggest successes?
BOZZI: Each year we are able to attract more than 20 students to enroll in this program that leads to a Bachelor of Science degree in biotechnology. Some students come from area high schools where they typically are already exposed to biotechnology, while other students are working professionals, have served in our military or have held other careers and are looking to enter this rapidly growing field. All our graduates are either gainfully employed in the industry or have gone on to professional or graduate schools.
PBN: What are the biggest challenges facing the program?
BOZZI: As a graduating requirement, each of our students need internships and assisting students in securing these is a major challenge.
PBN: Why was it paramount for Rhode Island, the smallest state in the union, to focus on such a burgeoning industry in 2002?
BOZZI: At the time, the West Greenwich Amgen facility was the largest mammalian cell biotechnology manufacturing site in the world and they were gearing up for expansion and in need of skilled, well-educated employees. They encouraged us to begin this program to provide that pipeline of individuals with a knowledge of biotechnology and a working level of laboratory skills.
PBN: What is the future of the program?
BOZZI: We continue to upgrade our laboratory facilities at URI’s Providence campus in order to meet the ever-changing requirements of this industry. We are actively recruiting students and have collaborated with the Community College of Rhode Island so students completing the CCRI biotechnology program seamlessly begin in URI’s BS degree program. We are also targeting returning veterans, as this segment is looking actively for a career with a good future.
PBN: How have the program’s graduates grown in the industry, especially in terms of startups?
BOZZI: Since many of our students find internships with startups and typically continue to work for them on a part-time basis during their URI education, many remain with these startups as experienced full-time employees after graduation.