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March 9, 2021
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Business Review Western MI
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Bio students/Bio future
(wgvu) - A new report on developing life sciences in western Michigan says the
region first must beef up certain higher-education programs work
that is already under way, some educators say.

Ed Bee, the consultant from Taimerica Manage ment Co. in Louisiana,
which a few weeks ago released the study Life Sciences Development in
Western Michigan: Regaining Global Prom inence, established several
goals for the region to accomplish in its quest to build a life-sciences
cluster. Included in that was introducing new graduate programs.

I think he told us we need to make changes, said Ron Kitchens,
CEO of Kalamazoo-based Southwest Michigan First, which, along with the
Right Place Inc. in Grand Rapids, commissioned the re port. It tells
us although chemistry's important, we've got to look at the biology
side of life sciences because that's where jobs are being created.

In fact, chemist positions declined one percent in the United States
between 2000 and 2005, according to the report. Demand for biological
technicians, however, grew 29 percent.

The newly created Van Andel Institute Graduate School in Grand Rapids
Aug. 27 started its first doctoral scientist program with three
students. It intends to continue to enroll classes of two to four
students each year for the next five to six years. Once expansion of the
VAI complex is complete, the school will recruit eight to 10 students
per year, with a capacity of 45 students in the five-year program.

The Ph.D. science idea is they would be leaders on research
projects, the people coming up with ideas and leading research on
projects that come up with new therapeutics , said Steve
Triezenberg, dean of the school.

He also credited Grand Valley State University for its professional
science master's degree.

In the past, a master's degree in sciences was often the first
step toward a Ph.D., Triez enberg said. More often people can go
straight to a Ph.D. from a bachelor's. There's value in training
people in that middle level. They're going to be lab managers.

That's a new trend in U.S. science graduate education, and
GVSU's done a good job picking that up and driving forward in areas
that would be very useful to biotech, he added. One additional
piece that's coming is the medical school from Michigan State
University coming to Grand Rapids. The medical school will bring a bit
of a research agenda, as well.

The life-sciences report acknowledges the boon of securing the MSU
College of Medicine in Grand Rapids, but notes, Western Michigan will
not become globally relevant in the life sciences if MSU fails to become
a top-tier medical research institution like the Uni versity of
Washington or the University of California-San Francisco. (For more
details on the report, see Business Review's Aug. 16-22 and Aug. 23-29
editions, as well as the Point of View on page 10 in this issue.)

The report also points to a need for a mechatronics graduate program,
which does not exist in western Michigan. Mechatronics refers to the use
of electronic sensors to collect data to control the movement of
machines. In life sciences, that is being increasingly applied to
medical devices.

We do not offer a separate curriculum in mechatronics, but elements
of it are integrated into courses we teach, said Paul Plotkowski,
dean of the Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and
Computing at GVSU.

If you look at who gets hired, you'll notice biomedical
engineering and mechatronics aren't on the list.

GVSU is focusing on traditional science majors with a good dose of
biomedical training included in the studies, Plotkowski said.
What we're hearing from the industry is that's what they want us
to do, at least at the undergraduate level.

Marilyn Schlack, president of Kalamazoo Valley Commun ity College and a
board member of Southwest Michigan First, intends to focus on the
manufacturing components that factor into life-sciences needs.

Life sciences doesn't have to mean very discreet research someone
in a lab coat might be doing, Schlack said. Life sciences includes
hospitals, the medical school being built in Grand Rapids, medical
devices. With medical, you're talking manufacturing. What kind of
support do they need?

While the Taimerica report focuses on the higher-level learning,
community colleges can play a strong role in educating life-sciences
workers, Schlack noted.

Most technicians, you can do very well with a two-year degree,
she said. Our medical-assisting programs or respiratory therapists or
nurses could probably go out and function in some technician-level
jobs . We have to be much more specialized in our educational

That requires a dialog between schools efforts that are under way
on many levels in the region. Life-sciences education is a topic when
Plotkowski meets with other educators at the Michigan Engineering
Dean's Counsel, he said. Also, KVCC meets with other southwest
Michigan community colleges and Western Michigan University frequently,
Schlack said.

One of the topics we are going to be talking about is common
planning for manufacturing, she said. The problem there is,
we're not far enough along in a need's analysis or the direction
our communities are taking.

We're going to have some fits and starts, but we do need to sit
down and say, Where are we going to put our money and time

Kitchens plans to have those discussions with local schools, as does
Birgit Klohs, head of Right Place, who will meet with GVSU this fall,
she said.

The problem we run into is we're not going to find the state of
Michigan as a whole supportive of paying for new programs, Kitchens
said. If a new engineering program is going to be designed , we as a
region are going to have to pay for that. We're going to have to be
creative in developing that synergy and not look to Lansing or
Washington for help.

I'm not willing to let the state off that easy, Schlack
responded. The governor has said it, the legislators have said it,
the future of this state rests with education.
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