The Alamance Community College Board of Trustees has approved a bold new plan to establish the College’s Biotechnology program as a Center of Excellence.
The decision is linked to workforce development and meeting local and regional bioscience industry’s job training needs. It most immediately means adding two new areas of study: Histotechnology and Bio-informatics.
“There is no better time or better place for our College to carve out Biotechnology as ACC’s first Center of Excellence,” said College President Dr. Algie Gatewood. “Alamance Community College is positioned – geographically and strategically – in the middle of North Carolina’s most active biotechnology corridor.”
ACC has been working since 2015 to identify a Center of Excellence – a program that is unique to a College, that leverages a pre-existing strength, that serves a strong industry need, that lends itself to increased industry partnerships, and that brings a sustained return on investment.
Alamance Community College has the longest running 2-year Biotechnology program in the United States and trains technicians in many areas. In addition, the College has the most complete biomanufacturing suite of any North Carolina community college and, as a result, is able to instruct in several state-of-the-art areas. This allows for the curriculum to model biopharmaceutical production from start to finish. Finally, ACC’s cell culture program is second to none in content, equipment and facilities.
The Alamance Community College Center of Excellence will serve as a regional hub for innovative, industry-supported and technology-based workforce development and jobs in the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology that ultimately supports the economic vitality of Alamance County. The College will focus on three major areas that are new to ACC: diagnostics, virology and agri-science.
Dr. Gatewood and College trustees emphasized that the college is poised to leverage the explosive growth that will occur in these three areas.
The growth rate of bioscience locally has already been phenomenal. In 2009 in the Piedmont Triad, there were 11,059 jobs in that sector. By 2014, it had grown to 15,138 jobs – a 37 percent increase. In Alamance County alone, the number of bioscience jobs jumped from 1,982 in 2009 to 3,958 – a 100 percent increase. Local employers include LabCorp, ARMC and BD Diagnostics.
In a June 2016 report, the N.C. Biotechnology Center announced that the number of North Carolina jobs in the bioscience sector has now eclipsed 70,000. Burlington is the #1 small Metropolitan Statistical Area in research, testing and medical labs.
For the past year, the College has been meeting with bioscience industry leaders, benchmarking current needs and future workforce training trends. As a result, the College has identified the need for a certificate program in Bioinformatics as well as an A.A.S. degree program in Histotechnology – the diagnostic testing component of the Center of Excellence (COE).
The Histotechnology curriculum will equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to prepare tissue specimens for microscopic examination using various stains and dyes to identify tissue and cell structures. The resulting specimens are then examined by medical professionals in order to identify abnormalities and formulate treatment strategies.
Bioinformatics is the application of computer information technology to the management of scientific data. Within the field of bioinformatics, computers gather, store, analyze and integrate biochemical and biological information.
Dr. Gatewood was quick to emphasize that these two study programs are only a beginning: “This will likely never be fully formed but instead will continuously evolve to respond to industry needs and help expand the county’s economic development base. The hallmark of our Biotechnology Center of Excellence will be that it is flexible and nimble in the marketplace.”
He noted that the Center will have natural ties and collaborations with other existing study programs: Information Technology, Culinary Arts, Horticulture Technology and Medical Laboratory Technology. In addition, ACC will begin a program in Mechatronics Engineering Technology in fall 2016 that will also have ties to the Center of Excellence.