Nov. 12-18, 1999
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Commission emphasizes primary role and breadth of public service in the University's mission
Mini-Med School

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Rimel advocates renewed civic action -- nation is in need, she says
From the desk of ... Dolly Prenzel
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Biotech center launches careers, answers a need in the community
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Research Computing Support Center opens
Scholarship created for E-school employees' children
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Cavalier sports fans have many cheering options

beakers, flasksBiotech center launches careers, answers a need in the community

By Dan Heuchert

The University is in desperate need of lab specialists to fill its research labs, with a third of its available positions vacant because of a lack of qualified applicants.

Meanwhile, there are local residents in desperate need of careers, but lacking the qualifications for good jobs with benefits and stability.

The BioTechnology Training Center is clearly an idea whose time has come. Perhaps that's why the center progressed from concept to ribbon-cutting in an amazing eight months, despite the involvement of some of the area's larger bureaucracies: U.Va., Piedmont Virginia Community College and the city of Charlottesville.

"We did what some people thought would be close to impossible," David Kalergis, director of Virginia Gateway, told approximately 40 people gathered in the clean, bright facility for the ceremonial opening Oct. 27. "Someone once said, 'It's amazing what can be accomplished if you don't care who gets the credit for it,' and that's the case here."

David L. Brautigan, director of U.Va.'s Markey Center for Cell Signaling, planted the seed for the center last winter in response to his and colleagues' frustration over the inability to hire qualified lab specialists.

"It was one of those things we complain to each other about in the hallway -- 'Gee, we have an opening and we can't find anybody to fill these jobs,'" he said.

About that time, he received a PVCC course-offering directory in the mail, which included an item about the college's intention to conduct more workforce training. A lightbulb went off.

Brautigan brought his idea to U.Va. Vice President for Research and Public Service Gene Block, who referred him to Kalergis, who then convened a meeting of city officials and local developers at a city hotel. After presenting his idea -- "I was really nervous," Brautigan admitted -- he was surprised to find unanimous enthusiasm. Two city councilors, Maurice Cox and David Toscano, declared, "Let's do it."

Events accelerated from there. PVCC agreed to take ownership over the educational program, found people to run it and developed a curriculum. Aubrey Watts, the city's economic development director, provided $163,000 in funds from his budget. A storefront at 321 West Main Street (near the Awful Arthur's restaurant) was identified, and landlord Gabe Silverman began renovations even before a contract was worked out. A local community development group, the Weed and Seed Network, offered to provide scholarships and coordinate academic mentoring, much of it from University students. Block's office kicked in $50,000 worth of lab equipment to outfit the center.

The first meeting of a one-credit introductory course was held Oct. 25, with 25 students in attendance (the number has since dropped by three). They are African American, Asian and white, ages 19 to 55. Some have never been to college, while others are already close to their associate's degrees. Some are single with no children, while one man has a wife, five children, and three part-time jobs.

"It's going to mean sustained careers at U.Va. or other private firms, and an improved quality of life because they won't have to work three jobs anymore," said Ayana Conway, director of the Weed and Seed Network, which is sponsoring 14 of the participants.

"This is a field I've always been interested in," said Amanda Washington, currently a certified sterile technician at U.Va., a job she has held for eight years. "I didn't have the means until this program."

Initially, PVCC will offer a two-semester certificate program, but a full-fledged two-year associate's degree program is in the approval process. Students will learn to perform experiments and procedures including spectrophotometry, spectroscopy, tissue culturing and enzyme assays, under the direction of a principal investigator or more senior lab personnel. Qualified graduates can expect to earn between $20,000 and $36,000 annually at U.Va.

"I'm delighted," said Andrea Fink, who recently moved to Charlottesville from Texas and admitted she had some "trepidations and insecurities" about returning to school after being out for 10 years. She learned about the program when she visited PVCC during a lunch break from her customer service job at Sprint.

Ultimately, the center could serve as a template for similar programs in other fields, said PVCC president Frank Friedman.

"Charlottesville is an amazing place when you think about it," he said. "This is an example of what can happen when people work together."

"Don't celebrate this building," he added. "Celebrate how this program will improve lives."


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