Updated May. 4, 2017 at 9:43 a.m.

Grifols, Johnston Community College plant seeds of biotech careers in eighth grade learning lab

Published: 2017-05-04 09:27:00
Updated: 2017-05-04 09:43:48

8th graders get biotech intro The “Discover the Plasma” week-long course taught in all Johnston County eighth-grade science classes provides an introduction to what’s involved in a biotechnology career, and especially what goes on inside the large Grifols manufacturing facility in Clayton. Image 1 of 2 · Next Image…

Editor's note: This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Johnston Community College.

CLAYTON — Introduce a concept before high school and it could lead to a career a kid never considered. Early indications are that it seems to be working. The “Discover the Plasma” week-long course taught in all Johnston County eighth-grade science classes provides an introduction to what’s involved in a biotechnology career, and especially what goes on inside the large Grifols manufacturing facility in Clayton.

“We’re building a pipeline for the industry,” said Leslie Holston, director of biotechnology at the Workforce Development Center at Johnston Community College. “There’s not a skills gap – there’s an interest gap. People don’t know that biotechnology careers are here.”

As eighth-graders learn what is involved in the work, what education they will need and what kind of salary they can make, enrollment in the JCC biotechnology program is increasing.

What started as a pilot three years ago in three Johnston County middle schools has now grown to include all 12 middle schools in the county, about 3,000 eight graders. It took teamwork from Grifols, Johnston County Public Schools and JCC biotechnology education. Grifols paid for the curriculum and the equipment.

“They need to know the jobs are right here in Johnston County,” said Amy Durham, director of quality compliance at Grifols. “They don’t have to go to Silicon Valley.” Or to the Research Triangle, for that matter.

Grifols employs more than 1,500 workers at its Clayton manufacturing facility. The 77-year-old company based in Barcelona, Spain, works in the fields of transfusion, blood banking, protein therapeutics and laboratory analysis.

Grifols

In “Discover the Plasma,” students learn about plasma and how it is processed into the various proteins to treat diseases.

The curriculum lasts one intense week and includes a workbook, an interactive web site and hands-on experiments using equipment, such as spectrophotometers, donated by Grifols to each school.

There’s no dumbing down in the course. They’re introduced to concepts like “plasmapheresis” – the process of separating plasma from whole blood into cells used to treat autoimmune diseases. Students try to diagnose a patient’s symptoms and prescribe a plasma product to treat it.

The course is taught by the Johnston County Public Schools eighth-grade science teachers, who have attended a workshop led by Holston. Holston works closely with the teachers to get feedback and make adjustments to the curriculum. A visit from a Grifols representative, usually Durham, ends the week-long course.

“Best part of my job,” Durham said. “All these kids are invigorating. They ask the best questions.” One Ph.D. level question came from an eighth-grader wanting to know if there are different protein percentages in different donor populations, she said. She also regularly gets, “How much can I make?” (The answer is $40,000 to $50,000 to start.) The most unusual and entertaining way to end the course occurred when students from Meadow Middle School acted out a full body centrifugation cycle, which resembled a dance.

Enrollment next semester is up for biotech at JCC. It’s too soon to tell if this course is the reason. But a rising high school junior who was in the eighth grade three years ago is now old enough for Career and College Promise, where they can attend both JCC and high school, and graduate with a high school diploma and an associates degree at the same time. Tuition and books are free.

“They come out debt free and ready for a great job,” Holston said. “It’s a path I would have chosen.” And with the uptick in enrollment, it looks as if for some that idea started in the eighth grade.


WRAL TechWire Partner: InnovatorThis story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner Johnston Community College.

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