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QCC Students Benefit From a Special Partnership

March, 2019
  • QCC students visit AbbVie
    QCC students and staff visit AbbVie
  • QCC staff member Selena Boria and Director of Mentoring Gabriel Santner (white shirt) tour AbbVie labs with QCC students.
    QCC staff member Selena Boria and Director of Mentoring Gabriel Santner (white shirt) tour AbbVie labs with QCC students.

The partnership between AbbVie and Quinsigamond Community College runs deep. It all began back in 1993 when QCC reached out to Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives to solicit industry members to help develop a biotechnology technology certificate and capstone course. Project Manager John Sauers (then an employee at BASF before the company became AbbVie in 2013) jumped at the chance to help create something for students that was industry-driven. Through the partnership between the company and the college, the biotechnology technology certificate program was formed.

“It’s been a sense of great pride for myself to help QCC students,” he said. “It’s been so popular that one year we ran it three times in one year.”

Today, the capstone course and program have been a part of both AbbVie and QCC for 25 years. In 2001, the capstone course was brought directly to the AbbVie site so that students could have a hands-on opportunity to work with the very latest equipment in the industry. It’s now offered during the summer months. The course is designed to bring in subject matter experts who teach different sections (such as quality control or fermentation) of the biotechnology industry.

“Employees who work here teach various disciplines so that students get a broad exposure in many disciplines,” Mr. Sauers said. “We wanted the students to get complete exposure to biotechnology. It’s a very non-traditional course.”

Coordinating AbbVie’s onsite course is Amanda Shearstone. Ms. Shearstone gathers the very best diverse subject matter experts to help teach the course and any of those have been QCC alum, who themselves were once a part of the program. According to Mr. Sauers, approximately 100 QCC students have worked at the company since 1993.

Last year AbbVie start its own Talent Community partnering with local schools and businesses to develop a sustainable flow of qualified candidates and Mr. Sauers said, “QCC is key for this talent group.”

Another pipeline is QCC’s newly developed mentoring program, which actively involves and encourages community members to become mentors; an opportunity that AbbVie was quick to get on the bandwagon.

“We jumped all over this and 12 employees are actively mentoring QCC students,” he said. “This is another opportunity that strengthens our connections.”

Several STEM-focused programs have been undertaken with students in QCC’s mentoring program thanks to funding from the college’s STEM Starter Academy. One of those included a February 26 event at AbbVie. Over a dozen QCC student mentees, as well as QCC staff members spent the day listening to AbbVie employees in a panel forum before touring the facility. The event began with a company overview by Manufacturing Site Director Michael McDonald, who discussed career paths before turning it over to a panel of AbbVie employees. Panelists included Manager of Quality Assurance Leslie Alessandri and three QCC alums: Associate Scientist John Burns, Calibration/Metrology Technician Joshua Burlingame and Senior Production Manager Paul Duggan, who each graduated from QCC with their Biotechnology Technician Certificate.

“I made it a point of putting the panel together with QCC alum,” Mr. Sauers said, noting the powerful impact this would have on the QCC students. “It was a good example and the employees were effusive with their desire to give back.”

After the panel discussion students were given a comprehensive tour that included the production area, quality control labs and reach lab, which included manufacturing, as well as research and development. 

Absatou Amahdou was one of the QCC student mentees who toured AbbVie. Her mentor, Kim Yach, is one of the AbbVie employees who is part of QCC’s mentoring program. Ms. Amahdou is a self-described lover of all things biology related and while her dream had always been to be in the medical field of some type, she was not convinced that being a nurse or even a doctor was what she wanted to do. Currently a General Studies Healthcare major, after the tour she is considering changing her major to one that would be more in line with biology  and career opportunities at companies like AbbVie.

“I’ve always loved biology and AbbVie is helping patients in the background by making medications. It was fascinating to see the cells in real life and not just in books. It made it real,” she said, adding that seeing and hearing former QCC students was very motivating. “I can be at QCC then work in an amazing career. It was the coolest thing.”

“I’ve always really seen this program as a door to the industry. We created a program and opened a door for hundreds of students – a door to opportunities,” Mr. Sauers added.

AbbVie offers intern positions, with a limited number available for QCC students. To learn more visit AbbVie.