Holland College bioscience program unique to Atlantic Canada

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 16, 2014

A program at Holland College should be the Maritime base for all labs and universities that could use "excellently trained staff'' in bioscience technology, says an instructor with the program.

Jenn Slemmer says the two-year bioscience technology program is the only program of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

The program, which was created eight years ago at Holland College, has received strong praise from industry and graduates alike.

Maclean's magazine heralded the program as one of 2011's "Red-Hot Postgraduate Programs'' in Canada.

"It's a very labour intensive, very rewarding two-year program,'' says Slemmer.

"We really jam a lot into the two years.''

Dr. Michael Gibson launched the program to create the biotechnologists needed to support an emerging bioscience sector.

"The program's graduates master scientific theory and hands-on laboratory experience — related to pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and environment, food, and agricultural sciences — preparing for careers in a bioscience lab or a biotech-based manufacturing or production facility.

Mark Martin, 22, of Charlottetown is a first year student in the bioscience technology program at Holland College.

He spent two years studying science and biology at UPEI but finds the program at Holland College "more hands on.''

Slemmer says few students go into the program straight out of high school. The program attracts many students from adult education and also students with some university experience or full university degrees.

The program, staffed by two instructors and two technicians, has a maximum enrolment each year of 18 students.

The age of first year students currently in the program range from 18 to 48.

"And I find that age is not a factor when it comes to success in the program,'' says Slemmer.

"Some of our oldest students are some of the most successful ones we have.''

Slemmer says graduates of the program end up in the workplace in large facilities like BioVectra and Novartis as well as in the smallest facilities that have only two or three people.

"It's amazing to see the growth of the bioscience industry on P.E.I.,'' she says.

The expansion of the industry, she adds, is "only limited by the growth of the individual companies and how many more companies we can recruit.''

More attention is being given to marketing the program.

On Wednesday, an open house in the form of a DNA Mystery lab was held for the second straight year to introduce the program to prospective students.

Three people that attended the lab last year are now students in the program.

"We are getting more the word out that there is a bioscience program at Holland College,'' says Slemmer.

"If you are looking for hands-on, technical experience in a two-year fashion, than this would be the place for you."

Mark Martin, 22, of Charlottetown is visualizing fluorescent bacteria with a backlight. The first year student in Holland College's Bioscience Technology program took part Wednesday in a mystery DNA lab that served as an open house for prospective students.

©Guardian photo by Heather Taweel