Program Offers Quick Entry to a Science Career

headshot of Julie Frankino
Julie Frankino

What do I want to be when I grow up? For many young adults, this is a daunting question. But for those who have an interest in science, an innovative new program from Waubonsee may just be the answer.

The Laboratory Technology Program, funded through a federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant, provides a unique approach to scientific career pathways and gives students a chance to experience the real work of laboratory operations right away.

Preparing for a career in science is academically demanding and typically involves a large amount of theory, accented by some hands-on lab exercises designed to demonstrate that theory. Such training is great for developing critical thinking and for building a foundational understanding of scientific principles; in other words, it is designed for people who intend to pursue master’s or doctorate degrees in a scientific field.

In terms of preparing students for the routine, daily work of an entry-level scientist, however, this traditional educational model has some gaps. Realizing that, Waubonsee faculty worked with a broad panel of local business and industry experts to develop a laboratory technology curriculum that bridges these gaps. The experts told us they need people who understand the strict process requirements for routine lab work and who have a strong familiarity with the field’s sophisticated instruments, beyond what students typically learn from a single lab exercise in a university science class.

These local employers also need people who can recognize when an instrument reading seems wrong and know how to find the source of the problem. They need people who appreciate the government regulations that guide the way work is conducted in a lab and who can act appropriately to make sure those rules are followed. These are skills that can only be fully developed through a combination of explicit explanation and sufficient practice opportunities.

Such skills not only make a person more employable, they also make the world a better place. Lab technicians do important work — making water cleaner, making medicine tastier, making airplane wings stronger — in a variety of settings, including water treatment plants, food-flavoring companies, quality control labs, environmental labs, oil companies and more.

Waubonsee’s Laboratory Technology Program is the perfect place for students to gain highly desirable skills and prepare for a job in one of these many industries in just two years. Here we give students the opportunity to work on state-of-the-art laboratory instruments much sooner than traditional science programs, affording them more time to practice their skills and to develop an understanding of the equipment.

Our courses teach work-specific procedures and include modules on regulatory guidance. Perhaps most importantly, students in the Laboratory Technology Program are strongly encouraged to complete internships, often through the program’s many industry partners.

By allowing science-minded students to see if the career they had envisioned is really what they want, Waubonsee’s Laboratory Technology Program is helping make that question of “what do I want to be when I grow up?” a little less daunting and the answer a little more accurate. To learn more, visit www.waubonsee.edu/lbt.

Julie Frankino is the TAACCCT Project Manager at Waubonsee.