center launches careers, answers a need in the community
By Dan Heuchert
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
the center could serve as a template for similar programs in other
fields, said PVCC president Frank Friedman.
is an amazing place when you think about it," he said. "This
is an example of what can happen when people work together."
celebrate this building," he added. "Celebrate how this
program will improve lives."