The SCC Biotech Team. (L to R): Susanne Helms, Tracy Niday, and Misty Wehling
SCC Looks to Expand Bio Science Collaboration
In the spotlight this month is Misty Wehling of Southeast Community College and SCC’s shaping of future life science workers.
Q. Misty, what is SCC’s role in educating the workforce in the life sciences?
A. We have heard from industry that it is a challenge to hire entry-level workers with the right skills. Our students complete two years of training to get a background in biology, chemistry and math, plus hands-on laboratory skills. We train students to properly maintain a lab notebook, along with a focus on quality, and teach how regulators like USDA and FDA will impact their daily work. Our final biotech course is a practicum that places students in industry for one term. This provides experiences for students and gives companies a chance to hire them.
Q. What kind of degrees can students receive?
A. In addition to our current associate of science degree, we recently were approved to apply to accrediting bodies to offer a new industry-recognized certificate and diploma. Students could get the certificate in one year and take courses for an entry-level job. The certificate would stack into a diploma requiring more courses. The diploma would then stack into a full associate of science degree. We will spend the next few months inviting industry input and configuring the courses.
Q. What are the primary occupations your students aim for?
A. After graduating from SCC, 100 percent of our students have found employment as technicians in local biotech companies. Others plan to continue at a four-year institution majoring in biology, biomedical science, biochemistry, microbiology or biotechnology. Biotech courses at SCC are set up so students can acquire the skills for a technician job. They also can transfer all courses to all four-year institutions in Nebraska. This transferability empowers students to continue their education, even their immediate goal is to enter the workforce.
Q. What are your program’s biggest opportunities?
A. In the few years we have been involved with Bio Nebraska, the life-science sector has seen tremendous growth. This is expected to continue. Our biggest opportunity is to really listen to the workforce needs of southeast Nebraska and design strategies and courses to meet those needs. Another opportunity is to collaborate with similar programs in our region and nationally to learn of strategies working elsewhere. We are fortunate to have a small grant from the National Science Foundation to help us do this work.
Q. What are your biggest challenges?
A. Our greatest challenge is most high school and college students are not aware of life-science career opportunities. In our college-level biotech and in ag/bioscience courses at the high-school Career Academy, we take students on field trips and invite guest speakers to improve awareness. In reality, though, we need to do more outreach in elementary and middle school. Students there are already making decisions that impact STEM career interest. We are excited to partner with the new Lincoln STEM Ecosystem to reach LPS students and connect with our community’s formal and informal STEM networks. In the future, we would like to partner with Nebraska EPSCoR to offer a biotech summer camp to middle-school students.
Q. How can more Bio Nebraska members connect with SCC?
A. We are grateful for the support of Bio Nebraska members! Many have provided tours for instructors and students, sent guest speakers, given input to our curriculum and even donated equipment and supplies. We invite you to connect with SCC. My email is MWehling@southeast.edu. You also can connect with our workforce leadership team.
Q. SCC serves a very large region. Are life science education needs different in urban vs rural areas?
A. Whether a student is in a rural or urban area, there are often transportation, work schedule or family obligations that restrict time. So, we offer hybrid courses with online lectures and labs that meet on campus once a week. SCC serves a 15-county region and has two rural-area campuses in Beatrice and Milford. There are many more things we could do, given enough interest, money and time. This includes equipping rural teachers to offer biotech labs, expanding our connections to more rural biotechnology-related companies and offering summer camps and college classes on SCC’s rural campuses.