UB's iSciWNY Will Help Grow a High-Tech, Life Sciences Workforce

Program provides a way for entire community to find work in WNY's life sciences sector

Release Date: October 6, 2009 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo introduced today iSciWNY, a comprehensive life-sciences workforce development program dedicated to preparing all Western New Yorkers, not just scientists, for new positions in Buffalo Niagara's growing life sciences industry.

UB's iSciWNY will use workshops, training programs, an interactive Web site and a Career Pathways kit to demystify the life sciences industry for Western New Yorkers and prepare them for employment in this sector, whether they're high school students looking for their first job or established professionals looking for a new challenge.

In announcing the new program, UB Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Satish K. Tripathi, PhD, said the region already has achieved significant growth in the life sciences and is poised for additional expansion.

"In 2006, the University at Buffalo opened the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences translational research facility here in downtown Buffalo to jumpstart Buffalo's emerging life sciences economy," noted Tripathi. "Today, Western New York is home to more than 120 life sciences companies. This sector is becoming more and more vibrant, as UB and our partner institutions leverage UB research and faculty resources to spin off new companies, help existing firms grow and attract new companies to the region.

"As the industry grows, so do the jobs," he continued. "UB's iSciWNY is the public's pathway to better preparation for those positions."

Supported by generous donations from the Bank of America and Life Technologies Foundation, in combination with grants from the New York State Department of Labor, iSciWNY is available to residents of the counties of Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua through the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board Inc. and to the counties of Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming through the Genesee County Economic Development Center.

"With the launch of iSciWNY, the University at Buffalo has moved Western New York one step closer to becoming a dominant player in the life sciences industry," said Kevin Murphy, Bank of America market president, Buffalo. "We are proud of our support for the program, which dates back to 2007, and our ongoing efforts to encourage workforce development."

The program has two emphases: education and awareness to inform people about what opportunities are available in life sciences, and training to help prepare people for those opportunities.

iSciWNY is available at no charge to Western New York organizations and individuals.

According to Marnie LaVigne, PhD, director of business development in UB's Center of Excellence and co-developer of iSciWNY, many Western New Yorkers are unaware of the extraordinary diversity of the region's life sciences industry, an industry that includes companies that develop and test powerful new drugs, create innovative medical devices and develop new computational tools needed to advance new research.

"The iSciWNY slogan, 'Stay here, go far' means that thanks to our growing life sciences industry, Western New Yorkers can stay here and find successful careers in many more fields than the typical laboratory position pictured by most people," LaVigne said. "It is incredibly rewarding to be involved in a career with great opportunities at all levels -- in technical and non-technical jobs that offer professional advancement -- while helping people live better, healthier lives because of innovative life science products and services."

Those opportunities are already here and are growing in number, according to Thomas P. Stewart, PhD, president and chief clinical officer at Gaymar Industries Inc., an international medical products manufacturing and engineering company in Orchard Park. Gaymar expects to see moderate growth in employment opportunities over the next two years, with more significant growth taking off after that.

"We have openings right now," said Stewart, "but sometimes we have difficulty filling them because people may not have the right set of skills. That's fixable through iSciWNY. For example, in some of our technician, engineering, manufacturing and assembly positions, it would be advantageous if candidates had some regulatory training, like the six-week regulatory program available through iSciWNY. It gives them a leg up on the competition."

A key feature of iSciWNY is its focus on changing public perceptions about life sciences, said Casey DeBruyn, training development supervisor at Grand Island's Life Technologies, a subsidiary of the Fortune 500 global biotech company Invitrogen Inc.

"When you mention life sciences, people automatically think of someone wearing safety glasses and a lab coat and possibly having earned a PhD," added DeBruyn, who is also an advisor and trained instructor for iSciWNY and related programs. "Scientists are part of the industry, of course, but so are thousands of other positions in business development, human resources, marketing, law, manufacturing and many others. Here at Life Technologies, we've had people with high school diplomas, associate's and bachelor's degrees working for 30 years in good, sustainable careers.

"iSciWNY is valuable because it provides resources both to students and adults, whether they're considering a career change or they've been displaced from a job," he added. "It enables workers to start building the fundamental skill sets they will need to be competitive in the market."

iSciWNY's emphasis on the community distinguishes it from other worker training programs, noted Sherryl Weems, EdD, co-developer of iSciWNY and director of UB's Educational Opportunity Center, which administers many of the iSciWNY training sessions.

"Community organizations like Hispanics United are thrilled that they can show young people how they can stay in Buffalo and achieve something important," said Weems. "And unlike a lot of workforce programs out there, this one doesn't see the pipeline as starting with the college student or graduate. iSciWNY starts in the community, and it targets everybody, from high school students to adults who are currently employed or in the market for a new job."

iSciWNY, Weems noted, was tailor-made to this region with major input by the Western New York life sciences companies and institutions that are hiring, along with educators, career counselors and others vital to spreading the message.

iSciWNY educates, raises awareness and trains people through:

• A rich, interactive Web site at http://www.isciwny.com that helps individuals discover what life sciences can offer them

• An informative, eight-minute video available at http://www.isciwny.com featuring stories from Western New Yorkers currently employed in the life sciences industry

• 2,500 Career Ladder Kits, now being distributed to each middle and high school in the eight-county Western New York region, as well as to job training centers and community organizations

• Two-hour introductory "train the trainer" workshops presented by project personnel and partner organizations so that iSciWNY "ambassadors" can then train others in using the program

• Two-hour introductory workshops starting in UB's Educational Opportunity Center and expanding into the community, where trained iSciWNY ambassadors will introduce the program to students, career changers, displaced workers and others who want to better understand and access opportunities in life sciences

• Five-week work-readiness certificate programs in life sciences, offered by UB's Educational Opportunity Center

So far, more than 100 individuals have completed the two-hour training programs. The five-week work-readiness certificate program debuts this fall.

According to its developers in UB's Center of Excellence and the Educational Opportunity Center, iSciWNY is unique nationally because of the way it addresses workforce development needs.

"iSciWNY creates a pipeline approach," explained LaVigne, "it links all the organizations that need to be involved to develop a skilled workforce -- whether through advising, educating, training or employment -- with the community at large."

Other regions statewide and across the U.S. have expressed interest in using iSciWNY as a model, LaVigne noted.

For more information, visit http://www.isciwny.com.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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