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Thursday, April 21, 2005

UNCP prepared to offer first biotechnology major in N.C.

In the 2005 fall semester, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke will be the first university in North Carolina to offer an undergraduate major in biotechnology.

Almost two years in planning, the University’s first interdisciplinary major was given final approval this spring. It is a joint program between the biology and chemistry departments.

Coupled with new, state-of-the-art laboratories at UNCP and investment in several off-campus biotech projects, University leaders see a great future in biotech for students and the region.

“We are engaged in a long-term process to build a new generation of jobs and industries in Southeastern North Carolina,” said Dr. Roger Brown, provost and vice chancellor for UNCP’s Office for Academic Affairs. “This new major will prepare our students to do many types of professional work from laboratory research technicians to field biologists and chemists.”

“Our community college partners and business affiliates will work together with UNCP to make sure that jobs we have lost in tobacco and textiles are replaced by jobs in pharmaceuticals and food science,” Dr. Brown said. “It will be good for all of us.”

Maria PereiraThe new major will offer a solid curriculum, and it will be popular, said program Director Dr. Maria Pereira of the Biology Department.

“We fought very hard to become the first program in North Carolina, and we worked very well together in the planning stages,” Dr. Pereira said. “We are going to be very, very popular.”

The biotechnology program builds on the strengths of the Biology, Chemistry and Physics and Mathematics departments to provide students a sound curriculum, Dr. Pereira said.

“The idea is to design a comprehensive curriculum to prepare students for graduate school, or to go directly into the workforce in one of several broad areas of the industry, such as medical or agricultural biotechnology,” she said.

UNCP’s science labs, dedicated in August 2004, will give students a leg up in the classroom and in undergraduate research, said Dr. Len Holmes, coordinator of the new major.

Len Holmes“We have been fortunate to have the generous support from our top administrators at the University,” Dr. Holmes said. “Also, funding from the National Science Foundation, North Carolina Biotechnology Center and other state, regional and federal sources made it possible to provide top-notch lab equipment.”

In February, UNCP’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to build a $1.6 million bio-processing laboratory at the nearby COMtech technology park. That decision came on the heels of an announcement by Greenstate Enterprises, a private investor, to construct a greenhouse at COMtech for biotechnology research and development.

“Our goal is to become a premier undergraduate research university,” Dr. Holmes said. “To that end, we have made many friends in the biotech industry and forged agreements with local community colleges and high schools.”

It is a theory-into-practice curriculum that includes research and internships in the biotech industry.

“The internships will be very, very good experience for students,” Dr. Holmes said. “We will place students with area biotech industry to get hands-on experience in the workplace.”

The new program is aimed at tapping into a growing industry with high-paying jobs, Dr. Holmes said.

“Absolutely, there is a job market in North Carolina that is growing at an estimated rate of 15 percent a year,” he said. “North Carolina and Gov. Easley have developed a strategic plan, with support of schools and universities, to become a major player in this industry.”

UNC Pembroke hopes to be prepared to ride the wave of this new and developing industry.

“We’re on top of the curve on this one,” Dr. Holmes said.

For questions about the new biotechnology major, please contact the Biology Department at 910.521.6245 or email Dr. Pereira at maria.pereira@uncp.edu, or contact the Chemistry and Physics Department at 910.521.6247 or email Dr. Holmes at len.holmes@uncp.edu.

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