One great thing about our interstate highway system and the growing number of tollways and freeways is that they feature limited access. It is easy to keep the wheels rolling forward when cross traffic cannot interfere with your progress. Instead of the stop-and-go interruption of traffic control signals, a plan was devised to allow overpasses to support cross traffic and on- and off-ramps to allow entrance and exit from side roads.
In some ways, education works in the same way. We begin with an entrance ramp into an educational program in high school or junior college or a university or graduate school, and the completion of one program provides the exit ramp from that course of study. For instance, my undergraduate degree was not in science, but I was able to enter the “science freeway” as a graduate student and complete my masters and doctorate in microbiology. Others I know completed a science undergraduate degree and then left science to pursue graduate work in law, communication, and even “dean of students” type stuff. Suffice it to say that a healthy educational program possesses flexibility in entering and exiting at various endpoints along the way.
I mention this because McMurry’s BIMS program is always looking for articulation agreements with other programs. Notable examples are our Dental Early Admission Program (DEAP 3+4) with UTHSC-San Antonio Dental School (which allows a BS in BIMS and DDS degree in seven years), and similar programs with Hardin-Simmons School of Physical Therapy for the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and Texas Chiropractic College for the Doctor of Chiropractic degree. Others with a variety of additional professional programs are in the works, giving McMurry’s BIMS students quick entry and preferred admission for programs in various medical fields. This, in and of itself, gives students choosing McMurry a huge advantage over those attending other colleges!
But the most interesting articulation program may be the one in development for biotech education in Abilene, and this truly puts the freeway exit ramp example above in proper perspective. Cisco College is a two-year community college with campuses in Cisco, Texas, and Abilene. They offer a certificate program in Biotech that is even newer than the BIMS program. Its first “graduates” are about ready for the workforce and further education. McMurry is developing an agreement that will allow some of the training they have received to count toward hours in the BIMS program. As Cisco moves toward an Associates Program in the field, we will work to make an easy transition into our BS in Biomedical Science program so that those so inclined can work toward a BS in BIMS. Such a step would mean higher pay, more responsibility, greater opportunity for advancement. Abilene’s growing biotech industry will be but one of the beneficiaries. At the same time, a MS in Biotech program offered by Texas Tech is also coming to Abilene. McMurry will work with TTU to develop an articulation allowing our students quick and easy entry into their program. Who knows – maybe a PhD in the field will be coming before long!
So, students interested in biotech, forensic science, or any of the other fields that rely heavily on molecular biology, microbiology, and genetics can come to Abilene and get on the Biotech Freeway. There will be exits at the certificate, associates, bachelors, and masters (and perhaps doctoral) levels of preparation to take them onto side roads important to their future. McMurry becomes the key connection between entry-level workers and biotech managers and entrepreneurs. We are excited to get on that freeway!
This Friday, the faculty of the Biomedical Science Program will meet for a retreat to discuss our first year of operation and plan for the year ahead. Attending will be Tom Benoit, Heidi DiFrancesca, and Gary Wilson from Biology, Paul Pyenta from Chemistry & Biochemistry, and Alicia Wyatt from Computer Science. Larry Sharp is on vacation and will miss the meeting.
In reviewing the first year of operation, many milestones suggest a rich and profitable future for the program. The first year saw over 20 students declare a BIMS major, mostly incoming freshmen interested in health professions or biotech. The new courses were very well populated. Growing publicity from the city fathers, The Development Corporation of Abilene, the TTU School of Pharmacy, and local biotech firm Receptor Logic helped to strengthen our position as the premiere life science/biotech training program in Abilene. Heidi DiFrancesca and Hyunshun Shin from Chemistry & Biochemistry have begun collaborating on a project to develop and test new treatments for breast cancer. And McMurry has seen the value in promoting these endeavors through funding for equipment and supplies to support the research-in-teaching approach used in BIMS.
I’m sure some time will be spent discussing the parallel development of the biotech infrastructure in Abilene, with a variety of support facilities (including the Abilene Life Sciences Foundation Research Accelerator facility) coming on line. Add to this the decision by Abilene Independent School District to start a new engineering/computer science high school this fall and you have converging efforts that point to a bright future. One of the tracks possible at the new high school is biotech engineering, which Dr. Jon Weidanz from TTUHSC-School of Pharmacy and I are promoting.
So what does the future hold? That is the reason for our retreat! I expect that we’ll see growing commitments to link our courses together and use our BIMS lab courses to conduct research. We’ll see BIMS-focused proposals for the lab renovation competition being held on campus later this month. We’ll see plans for research grants and programs to help high school science teachers learn and implement new methods, techniques, and equipment into their courses. We’ll see more articulation agreements with professional schools for pharmacy, physical therapy, and who knows what else! Clearly, BIMS is on the move and possesses the creative firepower to transform the sciences at McMurry. Thoughtful planning and staged implementation are keys to making that happen.
Check back in a few weeks as I give an update on the event!
Week before last I met with Dr. Jon Weidanz to discuss biotech issues in Abilene and ways our BIMS program can contribute to building a biotech workforce in west Texas. These meetings occur with relative frequency, as he and I share a vision for how McMurry BIMS students can become biotech leaders for America’s future.
Here are some things we see in Abilene’s future for biotech:
1. Growth in biotech education. Jon and I are working on ways to build a biotech-capable workforce in Abilene to support biotech growth. McMurry’s Biomedical Science students remain one of the most talked about resources for the future in this regard. The industry is hungry for BS in BIMS-prepared workers to hire at starting salaries of over $50K. Other avenues we hope to see fall into place soon:
- biotech opportunities for students in Abilene schools, particularly in the New Tech High School starting this fall.
- biotech certification programs at Cisco College, with an eye toward articulation with the BIMS program at McMurry.
- presence of a PhD in Pharmaceutical Science degree program through TTU’s School of Pharmacy in Abilene. There is an educational superhighway being developed to help provide skilled workers for biotech with exit ramps after high school, community college certification programs, four-year university degree programs, and graduate programs, all here in Abilene.
2. Growth in biotech opportunities. Jon and I discussed internships for students at Receptor Logic, and the myriad of other opportunities and developments on the horizon:
- growth in the equipment and infrastructure for research in Abilene, due to the Development Corporation of Abilene’s investment in the biotech accelerator facility set to open in December.
- the likelihood of more biotech firms arriving in town within the next year or so to join Receptor Logic in the accelerator and bring additional research and development and production to Abilene.
- formation of the Abilene Life Sciences Foundation to spearhead and coordinate local research efforts and to oversee the accelerator operations.
- ongoing support at McMurry for biotech program development. This summer several additional vital pieces of equipment are being purchased to grow the research capacity for BIMS program faculty and students, and to offer for use by others in the shared endeavor.
These developments confirm what we’ve known for a long time – the BIMS program was one that was needed and whose time had come. Our students will help write the pages of Abilene’s future.