Category: Campus & Community, Community Health, Faculty, Health Magazine

Title:Georgetown’s M.S. in Biotechnology celebrates 25 years

Author: By Karen Doss Bowman
Date Published: June 1, 2022

The field of biotechnology has advanced rapidly over the past 46 years, with significant applications in health care, agriculture, manufacturing, forensics, and environmental management. Believing that Georgetown University should invest in preparing future leaders for this growing industry, the late Jack Gregory Chirikjian, PhD, founded the Masters in Biotechnology Program in 1997. With Dolly, the first cloned sheep born in 1996, Chirikjian realized the field was sure to demand a more highly skilled workforce.

A Georgetown faculty member for 46 years, he was a professor of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology. A dedicated researcher, Chirikjian was a successful entrepreneur who founded seven biotechnology companies and owned numerous patents. But most of all, he was beloved by students and colleagues. Chirikjian—known as “Dr. C” to many—started the program with just eight students. Today, the cohort size has expanded to around 70 students each year. The program has over 1,200 alumni.

“Jack was a visionary, and he was the heartbeat behind this program,” says Ivica Labuda, PhD, director of the Masters in Biotechnology Program. “He envisioned this hands-on program that merges science and business, preparing students for biotech careers. Dr. Chirikjian was always available to students, alumni, and colleagues. We are grateful for his contributions.”

In addition to basic research methods, the biotechnology program focuses on developing skills in leadership, teamwork, and entrepreneurship. Students may specialize in one of five tracks: BioBusiness, BioScience, Drug Design and Discovery, Entrepreneurship, and Industrial Sciences. The required capstone internship allows students to get a foot in the door of this in-demand industry.

In October, the university will celebrate the degree program’s 25th anniversary, bringing together faculty, students, alumni, and industry leaders for a day of reminiscing and looking toward the field’s future. Labuda says the event also offers a chance to recognize the many contributions of alumni, who are generous in sharing their time and expertise with students. 

Jack was a visionary, and he was the heartbeat behind this program. He envisioned this hands-on program that merges science and business.

“Our alumni are part of our biotechnology family,” Labuda says. “They mentor our students, help them find internships, and share their knowledge. They’re giving back in so many ways. We are stronger if we are together.”

As the biotechnology program enters its 25th year, Kyle DiVito, PhD, the program’s associate director, and Labuda also recognize the importance of looking toward biotechnology’s horizon. New courses such as Cell and Gene Therapy, Vaccine Development, and Biomedical Tissue Engineering have rapidly become student favorites. Labuda’s mission for the program centers on Chirikjian’s core vision but also brings clarity and creativity to propel the program into the next 25 years.

“In 1997, Dr. Chirikjian’s vision for this program was quite unique, and we have attempted to harness that inspiration even today,” DiVito says.

Photo: iStock

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