Six weeks into the summer semester of the Medical Biotechnology program solidified Elizabeth Luke’s career goals.
Liz spent those weeks in the Microbiology course required of Medical Biotechnology students between their junior and senior year.
The intensive six-week course, taught by assistant professor James Vossler, MS, introduced Liz to the growing field of infectious disease research, and that settled her decision.
“For a while I thought about medical school but I decided against that,” she said.
Liz graduated from Onondaga Community College with an associate’s degree in Mathematics and Science, and came directly to Upstate to pursue biomedical research.
“Our mentors are very accommodating,” she said. “We get a lot of one-on-one advising.”
The lessons and techniques Liz learned throughout the Medical Biotechnology curriculum, including Western blot and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing, have been challenging but are proving valuable -- “even things that I didn’t think would help at the time,” she said.
In her senior year internship in the lab of Upstate’s William Kerr, PhD, she worked with post-doctoral faculty on projects researching a protein known as SHIP.
The protein plays a role in the immune system and is being studied in relation to a variety of illnesses and conditions, including cancer, obesity and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
Liz is using her BS degree in Medical Biotechnology as a foundation to pursue graduate education in infectious disease research. She is enrolled in the New York State Department of Health Master of Science in Laboratory Sciences program at the Wadsworth Center, Albany.
Michael Miller found a home in the Medical Biotechnology program at Upstate.
“It’s definitely a tight-knit group,” he said. “The professors are available, always there for you. It’s a very intimate setting.”
At most, Michael said, there are 20 students when the Med Biotech students are with Medical Technology students and Medical Scholars in some classes. The small class sizes and availability and expertise of the faculty are a tremendous benefit of the program, he said.
“The Immunology course lit a fire for me,” Michael said of the 3.5-credit course taught by Professor Linda Miller, PhD. “In that course in particular, a lot of things come into play with infectious disease.”
Michael spent his senior year internship in the lab of Gary Chan, PhD, studying the human cytomegalovirus, its side effects and its role in several illnesses, including atherosclerosis and multiple organ failure.
“We’re trying to figure out how the virus evades apoptosis, how it hijacks signaling to help its survival,” he said.
Michael found the research team he worked with during his internship to be “super supportive in taking on an undergraduate” into their research lab.
Michael is staying at Upstate after graduation. He’s pursuing a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Graduate Studies in the same laboratory where he performed his undergraduate research internship.
Sarah Goodman has been busy since she graduated from Upstate’s Medical Biotechnology program.
She earned a master’s degree in patent law at the University of Notre Dame, and graduated from law school at Indiana University, where she concentrated on intellectual property law. She’s a registered patent agent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and is employed by a firm in Chicago, Illinois, where she is working on legal issues related to biotech and medical device inventions.
“There are so many different directions you can go with a Biotech degree,” Sarah said.
Biotech companies and law firms that work with researchers need people who know their way around patents and intellectual property law. That kind of expertise is crucial to protecting advances and discoveries made in the laboratory.
Other career options for Medical Biotechnology graduates include medical school, forensic investigations, pharmaceutical development and academic research.
Upstate’s Biotech graduates have chosen those careers, among others. Sarah said a major advantage for Upstate students is the senior internship, which provides an intense, months-long immersion into the workings of a laboratory or company.
Medical Biotechnology students tend to be patient and determined, willing to work on a project that may not yield results for months, Sarah said.
“I’ve been a tour guide on campus, and one prospective student asked me why it takes so long to do research,” she said during her senior year. “But if you enjoy it, it’s not a chore. I’ve learned a lot. Now I’m able to do things on my own and problem-solve.”
Jamal was born and raised in Fez, Morocco before moving to Syracuse, New York to pursue his undergraduate and graduate training. After graduating from the Medical Biotechnology program, Jamal continued his education at SUNY Upstate. He obtained a Master’s degree in Medical Technology in through the Medical Scholars program, and went on to graduate from Upstate’s Medical school.
Jamal placed in the top 30 percent of his first and second year Medical school classes, and earned a rank of outstanding in his third year. He was one of 12 students in his Class that were elected to the National Student Honor Society, Alpha Omega Alpha – and the first graduate of the Medical Scholars program to be selected for the AOA.
Jamal said his medical school education was enhanced by the Medical Biotechnology and the Medical Scholars programs. Jamal conducted research in Upstate’s prestigious Center for Vision Research while in those programs.
“Without these two programs, I would not have attended and received the high quality education that is offered in the Upstate Medical University College of Medicine,” he said.
Jamal is currently a resident specializing in Internal Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. After completing his residency training, Jamal plans to pursue a fellowship in interventional cardiology.
Dena Martin has used what she learned in the Medical Biotechnology program every day in her career. Following graduation, she worked for nearly five years as the Clinical Research Coordinator for Radiation Oncology at the Upstate Cancer Center. She is currently employed as a Clinical Research Associate at Covance, a global contract research organization that works on major pharmaceutical drugs through a spectrum of nonclinical, clinical and commercialization services.
“The Medical Biotechnology degree provides the knowledge base for what I do,” said Dena. In her positions, she has managed clinical research regulations, protocols, data, patient care and support.
“There’s a lot of molecular biology involved in oncology research,” Dena said. “It takes bench science and applies it in the clinical setting. It’s an excellent foundation.”
Dena said her Med Biotech class was tight-knit, and the students “were very good at helping each other. We balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We became a very close group.”
Dena’s senior internship was at the county forensic crime laboratory next to campus. “(Professor) Linda Miller basically created that internship for me because she knew of my interest in the field,” she said. “It’s a very personalized program with a fantastic faculty.”
The Medical Biotechnology program is “hands-on from Day One, when you put on the white coat and they hand you the gloves and your microscope,” Dena said. “There are lectures, of course, but the majority of it is hands-on.”
It’s also a rigorous program, she said, one that “definitely makes you stand up and talk. It’s an excellent way to learn how to present your work.”
Assistant Professor James Vossler was the faculty advisor for Dena’s senior project, which measured antibacterial activity on plastic chips containing silver additives. She won a John Bernard Henry Endowment scholarship, and presented at Student Research Day in 2010.
As a non-traditional student who was established in the workforce and had two children, Dena never felt like she didn’t fit in with her classmates. “We worked well together regardless of age,” she said. “There is such professionalism among the faculty and students; they treat you like a colleague and a professional.”
Dena recently began pursuing a master’s degree in Health Services Administration at SUNY Oswego.
Two months after graduating from Upstate’s Medical Biotechnology program, Rakibou Ouro-Djobo began working as a research associate with Berg Pharma, a pharmaceutical development company in Framingham, Mass.
He was promoted to Senior Research Associate and was a team leader studying the biology of prostate cancer biomarkers. Rakibou also worked with other cancer cell lines at Berg, and was involved in studying the mechanism of an experimental cancer drug, BPM31510.
“This profession will enable me to be on the front line in the effort to identify the root causes of diseases and come up with solutions to help relieve society’s illnesses,” Rakibou said.
While at Upstate, Rakibou was involved in student government and served as a Student Ambassador for the Office of the President. His senior year internship was in Upstate’s Cancer Research Center.
Rakibou also is co-founder and chief of Nerdy Operations, a social enterprise whose goal is to deliver STEM education to young people in sub-Saharan Africa. He obtained an MBA degree from Babson College and is currently a consultant with Converge Consulting, a business consulting firm exclusively serving the life sciences industry.
Danielle Safaty chose Upstate’s Medical Biotechnology program for personal and professional reasons.
“I’m used to a small setting and that’s why I chose Upstate,” said Danielle, who earned an associate’s degree from Suffolk County Community College. “It’s intimate, and our class is close-knit. It’s comforting to have the same group of people with you every day.”
Danielle’s interests lie in the medical applications of clinical laboratory science. Her education in the Medical Biotechnology program provided a solid foundation for her current educational pursuit of a Master of Science degree in the Physician Assistant Studies program at Marist College.
“Here we’re learning the clinical applications to what we’re studying,” she said. “I see it as a pre-med track. It’s challenging material, but I love absorbing new information. I love learning and being challenged. It keeps us on our toes.”
Danielle said the faculty in Upstate’s Biotech program is “with us every step of the way. It’s very comforting. They’re extraordinary. They want all of us to succeed. This is what they do. They’re not researchers somewhere else doing this on the side. I’ve never experienced a setting where the professors care so much about the students.
“I love the research aspect and being in the lab,” she said. Danielle said she enjoys research but also likes being on the front lines of clinical care. She became a certified basic Emergency Medical Technician this year.
“There’s something really exciting about pre-hospital care,” Danielle said. “You’re the patients’ lifeline and what you do determines whether they survive.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in Medical Biotechnology, James Bowen has followed a career path in an area that he is very passionate about: basic science research with a specialization in immunology.
James spent two years as a Laboratory Technician III at the University of Rochester Medical Center, working with a research team to advance the study of hematologic disease, bone marrow transplant and blood transfusion medicine.
“Upstate provided me with research experience, laboratory skills, and a breadth of knowledge that has allowed me to hit the ground running and excel at my current position,” James said while at Rochester.
James went on to pursue a PhD in Immunology & Molecular Pathogenesis at Emory University in Atlanta. “Upstate's program has prepared me very well for this daunting task,” he said.
His research at Emory focused on the role of dendritic cells and RIG-I like receptors (RLRs) in mediating protection during viral infections such as the West Nile virus.
He is currently a Post-doctoral fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
As a senior at Upstate, James spent much of his last semester working at his clinical placement site, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics in Rochester. Guaranteed internship placements for Medical Biotechnology students give Upstate students a major advantage.
“There are opportunities for clinical placements at prominent laboratories,” James said. “Students seek out the kind of company and location they're interested in, and the school makes the arrangements.”