Author: Rebecca Ayer
Contact: Timothy Davies

Published

The University of Georgia has been awarded federal stimulus funding to launch an innovative new program that will help meet the workforce needs of Georgia’s growing biotechnology industry.

The three-year, $700,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will create a new Professional Science Master’s program in biomanufacturing and bioprocessing that capitalizes on UGA’s academic strengths, facilities and industry ties. Only 21 of 210 universities were selected to receive the highly competitive award.

“The focus of a PSM is different from the traditional undergraduate, master’s or doctoral degree,” said Timothy Davies, co-director of the program at UGA and a research scientist in biochemistry and molecular biology. “It allows individuals to pursue advanced scientific training in a particular sector of industry while developing a strong foundation in business practices. It equips students with the skills that industry requires.”

“This new PSM program is an exciting first at UGA, providing a more direct connection between graduate training and workforce development, in an area of intense need in this country,” said David Lee, vice president for research. “This is a prime example of a new trend in workforce-directed academic/industrial/government partnerships.”

The degree program is awaiting final approval from the University Council Executive Committee and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. It will seek official recognition as a PSM program from the Council of Graduate Schools.

Approximately 200 PSM programs across the United States now respond to the national need for a stronger scientific workforce to enhance the nation’s competitiveness, said Davies.

The eight to 10 students in the new program will focus their studies in one of three areas of biomanufacturing—biofuel/biochemical, industrial/environmental or pharmaceutical—in either a large company or small firm setting.

Participating faculty represent UGA’s Terry College of Business, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Pharmacy, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Bioenergy Systems Research Initiative and Faculty of Engineering. The interdisciplinary nature of PSM faculty “demonstrates the central importance of biomanufacturing to all aspects of biotechnology,” said Davies.

The biomanufacturing training facilities at UGA are unique in the Southeast and state-of-the-art for industry, said Davies.

“Typically, the Bioexpression and Fermentation Facility and its equipment are available only to researchers and industry clients,” he said. “Students trained at UGA’s PSM program could potentially go straight to work at DuPont Danisco’s new biofuel facility in Tennessee or at a veterinary pharmaceutical company like Merial.”

The university’s strong industry links will enhance students’ experiences through seminars and guest lectures, lab-based case studies and internship opportunities. Committed industry partners include Merial; industrial enzyme producer Novozymes; biopharmaceutical firm Inhibitex Inc.; and technology providers DCI-Biolaffite, Innovative Controls and Smartflow Technologies.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Centers for Innovation and Georgia Bio, the state’s leading biotechnology trade organization, also have signed on to provide industry contacts and expertise. The Georgia BioBusiness Center, UGA’s own technology incubator, will foster links between students and regional start-up companies.

The NSF funds will be used to support recruitment and fellowships for students in the new master’s program. Additional support for the program is being provided by UGA’s Office of the Vice President for Research, Graduate School, department of biochemistry and molecular biology and Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute, which will serve as the degree program’s administrative home.