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NSF grant helps NOVA's Biotechnology Program become regional leader

Three years ago, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $190,949 to Northern Virginia Community College to strengthen the College’s Biotechnology Program. The grant supported a project called “Establishing NOVA as a Regional Leader in Biotechnology Education and Training.”  

The major project goals were to increase enrollment, retention and graduation rates. Strategies included strong internal recruitment, mandatory faculty advising, curriculum enhancement, and development of articulation agreements with four-year colleges to create pathways for students into the biotechnology field.  

To spark interest in the program, a biotechnology module was created and incorporated into all general biology classes to reach students already at NOVA. Mandatory faculty advising that focuses on student engagement and motivation is credited with increasing the retention rate. Faculty also developed a specialized student handbook that will help recruit new students and reinforce retention because biotechnology students now have clear guidelines for success.

The program’s curriculum was enhanced to train high quality workers who meet industry needs, with competencies that are assessed through a rigorous final exam for each subject. In addition, a new articulation agreement with George Washington University’s College of Professional Studies provides a seamless transfer option for students who want to pursue a four-year degree.  

Before graduating from the Biotechnology Program, students must complete an internship. With help from faculty recommendations, students have secured prestigious internships at such institutions and universities as the National Institutes of Health, Bode Technology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Quest Diagnostics, Virginia Tech Summer Research Program, George Mason University Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program, and University of Maryland College Park.  

“Our students must demonstrate the appropriate knowledge and skills before they are placed in an internship. Our lab resembles an industry setting so by the time our students graduate they are ready to enter the biotechnology workforce,” said Ia Gomez, Manassas Campus assistant dean for science and director of the project.

The project’s external evaluation showed that 100 percent of recent biotechnology graduates are either completing a four-year degree or employed at a biotechnology company.

“Under Dr. Gomez’s leadership with our faculty team, NOVA’s Biotechnology Program has become a flagship program for the entire College,” Manassas Provost Roger Ramsammy said. “I hear nothing but success stories about NOVA biotechnology students who have received numerous awards and scholarships.”

NOVA offers an associate degree in biotechnology and a shorter certificate program. For more information, go to www.nvcc.edu/manassas/biotech or call Gomez at 703-530-8255. 

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.