Originally created 03/10/01

Group reveals plans for biomedical degrees



The push to create biotechnology companies in Augusta is doing more than sparking a new economy - it's writing a new curriculum. It might be forging a new link between Augusta's public schools, colleges and the Medical College of Georgia.

At a meeting Friday of the executive committee of the Georgia Medical Center Authority, school officials, who are also authority members, revealed plans for new degree programs that will supply a new work force for the emerging field. The authority was created by the state and chartered in December to help commercialize research discoveries at MCG and foster the growth of a biotechnology industry im Augusta.

Those companies will need workers, said authority member Terry Elam, president of Augusta Technical College. The school will propose creating two new two-year associate degrees, a research technician program and a biomedical technician program, Mr. Elam said. If approved, the programs might start enrolling in fall 2002, said Mr. Elam, chairman of the authority's Workforce Development and Education Committee. He envisioned each program turning out about 20 graduates a year, and some might go on to the medical technology program at MCG, with possibly some courses at Augusta State University. Then they might go into a proposed master's degree program in biomedical technology at MCG, Mr. Elam said.

A similar program at Athens Technical College is linked to the University of Georgia, he said. Augusta would like could go one step further and have senior high school students get an early exposure to the programs, he said.

They are already needed, said Matthew J. Kluger, vice president for research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

"There's a shortage of these types of people," Dr. Kluger said. Typically, the research technicians have degrees in biology or chemistry, "then there's a lot of on-the-job training," Dr. Kluger said. "What we're trying to do is create a common path for those who want to be research technicians."

Dr. Kluger said he hopes positions will be the kind that could pull down $40,000 to $50,000 a year. People with that expertise are already in demand in Augusta, he said.

"We already have a biotech industry here; we just haven't called it that," Mr. Elam said. In fact, cataloging that work force and tracking down every company is one of the immediate goals of the authority, although it will be difficult, said authority director Cathy Slade. That list, though, could be used to market Augusta to established companies looking to relocate, Mr. Elam said.

"We may have a work force here we can use as a carrot to get companies to look this way," Mr. Elam said.

Augusta Tech and MCG were thinking about starting these programs before the authority came along, Dr. Kluger said.

"Certainly with the medical center authority coming on line, it created greater impetus for us to create this kind of program," Dr. Kluger said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.