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Students in Roxbury Community College's biotechnology program gain valuable experience

Ted Thomas | 4/4/2012, 7:40 a.m.
Professor Kristin Laird in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Division. (Photo courtesy of Roxbury Community College)...
Roxbury Community College biotechnology student, Adekemi Victoria Adeleye. Roxbury Community College

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Professor Kristin Laird in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Division. (Photo courtesy of Roxbury Community College)

Roxbury Community College (RCC) students enrolled in the biotechnology program have a unique educational opportunity. They can gain valuable hands-on experience working as interns at some of the area’s most prestigious colleges or companies.

RCC students have interned at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston University, Boston College and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Students have also been interns at Celldex Therapertics, and soon the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) will become a placement site.

RCC’s Biotechnology Internship Program is a source of pride for Professor Kristin Laird and her colleagues in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Division. Although the program is only three years old, it has already gained considerable respect in the biotechnology field attracting industry awards and a major grant.

Laird has been the program’s coordinator since its inception. From her office on the fourth floor of Building 3, she notes how the program supports RCC’s mission statement. “I think it fits very well with RCC’s mission,” she said. “The students come here with one of two goals: to get a job or to start their education and move on to a four-year-institution.”

Before they do either, Laird and the other members of the STEM faculty make sure students are “grounded in the basics.”

She explained, “The goal of the biotech program is to train students in some very basic research techniques that would be helpful for them to go into academic research, hospital research or industry.” Laird emphasized that students may also choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree or beyond.

In addition to in-class instruction, students must also spend numerous hours in the laboratory. RCC’S biotechnology lab is a crucial component to the overall education of students in the biotechnology program. “We have a very nice lab where we have received a lot of new equipment which allows us to do many different things,” Laird noted.

Classroom instruction and hands-on work in the laboratory is augmented by the internship program, a requirement for biotechnology students. Laird is quick to point out that the internship research project “doesn’t have to be a major research project.” The students are in the program for 15 weeks. “What we are looking for are projects that help them work on a couple of different skill sets.”

For example, one student is working as an intern at Celldex in Needham, “testing different agents to see how they perform in the test tube,” said Laird.

The intern earned accolades from her supervisor, who spoke highly of her and the good lab skills that she has developed.  This summer, interns will be able to enroll in paid internships while earning college credit.

One former RCC biotechnology student, Adekemi Victoria Adeleye, had nothing but praise for both the program and her internship. She worked under the supervision of Dr. Keith Crawford of Harvard University. Her placement was at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as a Research Trainee. At the hospital, she learned more about the scientific method, research and how to design experiments and analyze data.

“I also developed lab management skills such as research documentation and lab equipment maintenance,” Adeleye noted.

She acknowledged that Dr. Crawford was more than a supervisor to her. “Dr. Crawford became a mentor to me and an inspiration,” she said.

Adeleye is currently a student at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences majoring in nursing. “My ultimate goal is to enter Yale University’s doctorate program in nursing,” she said.

RCC is one of only two community colleges that offer internships in the biotechnology programs. That distinction helped the college earn two Gold Star endorsements from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Consortium. It was a major achievement for such a young program. A considerable grant has also helped to enhance laboratory equipment

Adeleye recalls that part of her decision to attend RCC was because of the College’s motto: “Gateway to the Dream.”

“The motto is a constant reminder that I am laying the foundation for the future because a solid foundation is important in achieving one’s dream,” she said.