he Biotechnology Program at Santa Fe College began in 2006 as a relatively modest offering of biotech courses on the main college campus. Only four students enrolled in the original class, including the program’s current biotechnology coordinator and assistant professor, Mary El-Semarani. Today, there are 290 students enrolled in the biotech and emerging sciences curricula, which provide new career opportunities through enhanced science and technical training.
The program’s impressive growth in the past seven years has paralleled and contributed to the increasing role of biotech industries in the local and state economies, as evidenced by our area’s own boom. Strategically placed in Alachua near the UF Sid Martin Biotech Incubator and Progress Park, the Charlies R. And Nancy V. Perry Center for Emerging Technologies works closely with biotech startups and serves as a feeder for Santa Fe High School’s biotechnology program. The 20,000-square-foot building offers hands-on specialty training in its fully-functioning laboratories, training facility and state-of-the-art classrooms.
The center meets the needs of the emerging regional biotechnology industry by training entry-level laboratory technicians and also providing a sound basis for further education in science by giving students extensive laboratory experience. The program is sustained by a formal partnership between SFC, UF and the biotechnology industry.
Under the direction of Eileen Monck, the Perry Center provides a college education in emerging technical areas and trains students in specialized areas that are not necessarily achieved through traditional academic degrees. Graduates from these programs will be competitive in the job market due to their extensive hands-on education. There are channels for continued academic specialization and advanced degrees, which, in turn, bring further employment opportunities and benefits.
Interestingly, the career pathway of El-Semarani provides an excellent example of the goals of the center’s mission.
“I came to the program with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UF and was a student in one of the first biotech classes,” says El-Semarani. “When I realized that I needed more technical training, I completed the SFC biotechnology program.”
She went on to work in the field as a biotech lab technician, and ultimately completed her master’s degree in forensics from UF. Today, El-Semarani works closely with – and mentors – the students at the Perry Center.
Currently, the center offers three different technical tracks: biotechnology, biomedical engineering and clinical laboratory sciences. Initially, it offered Associate of Science degrees in biotechnology and biomedical engineering. However, the program has grown significantly and has added a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in clinical laboratory science. This fall, pending SACS approval, the center will launch a second Bachelor of Applied Science degree in industrial biotechnology.
Collectively, the programs strive to engage students in a very hands-on approach. Students exit the programs with specialized skills which are further developed through internships within industrial settings. As a result of the internships, job placement in these areas remains very high. El-Semarani’s success is proof of the Perry Center’s excellence.
Compiled by Mary El-Semarani and Edited by Anna Olcese | Photography by Cindy Taylor