Howard University’s Chemical Engineering Department and Amgen, an independent biotechnology company, have designed an innovative academic-industry partnership meant to greatly expand opportunities for underrepresented minorities in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. The partnership takes the form of a fellowship for master’s level graduate students and includes training in Amgen’s laboratories.
The Chemical Engineering Department, in the Howard University College of Engineering and Architecture, has a master’s graduate program. According to Preethi Chandran, the director of Graduate Studies in Chemical Engineering, the master’s program has been a reliable portal for industry jobs in chemical engineering and for students who seek doctoral degrees, but there has been less breakthrough into the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.
“Resolving disparity in participation in these industries is critical to resolving downstream disparities in treatment designs and outcomes,” said Chandran. “The idea is to seamlessly integrate a co-mentored pathway for these industries with joint research projects and on-site immersive experiences. With a great partnering team from Amgen, we designed the Amgen Fellowship to leverage the strengths of academia and industry in mentoring careers.”
Howard University is no stranger to Amgen. Several Amgen leaders have worked closely with this educational institution, and some sit on the boards of their various colleges.
“The Amgen partnership leverages our department’s expertise in producing Master of Sciences degree-holders from communities underrepresented in STEM and Amgen’s proven track record of involving Black and African American graduate students in state-of-the-art research with targeted industrial applications,” said Patrick Ymele-Leki, interim-chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Howard University.
“This program exemplifies our commitment to improving diversity and inclusion throughout Amgen and our R&D organization,” says Alan Russell, vice president of Research at Amgen. “We hope the Amgen Educational Fellowship will serve as a flagship to expand to other departments at Howard University and other HBCUs.”
Graduate students Eunice Ngata and Pilar O’Neal have been selected as inaugural fellows for the program, which started this summer. Ngata will engage in a research collaboration with mentorship from John Kawooya, director of research, Biologics, at Amgen’s campus in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Ngata’s Howard-based mentor will be Solmaz Tabtabaie, an assistant professor in chemical engineering. The research project will focus on high-dose and slow release of protease inhibitors in cell culture.
O’Neal will engage in a project with Bram Estes, senior scientist, Biologics, at Amgen in Thousand Oaks, on enhancing protein secretion with DNA/protein complex delivery into cells. Chandran will serve as the Howard-based co-mentor. A second cohort of two fellows is slated to begin in summer 2022 with training at Amgen’s South San Francisco laboratories, and one of the projects will include a collaboration between Melissa Thomas of Amgen and Ymele-Leki on drug transport through biofilms.
For additional questions on the Amgen Educational Fellowship program, please contact Preethi Chandran
For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.