Growing field: Gwinnett Tech's bioscience enrollment up 152 percent

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

LAWRENCEVILLE -- When the drought hit Georgia, Herschel Meaders' landscaping business dried up.

Meaders said he and his family were sure about one thing: "We couldn't let Mother Nature decide if we were going to survive." So he enrolled at Gwinnett Technical College.

Because he had experience working in fire rescue, Meaders knew he liked feeling that he was giving back to the community. He also had an interest in the medical field, so he started studying radiologic technology.

One day, an e-mail about the college's new bioscience program caught his eye.

"I thought this would be good," he said. "It works with forensics or medicine ... so I made the change. It's probably one of the best decisions I made in the last 10 to 15 years."

Bioscience is the study of chemistry, biology and medicine as applied to living organisms and their life processes, according to a sign on the door of the bioscience laboratory. Its applications include the creation of new medicines and medical devices, criminal investigation techniques, improvement of the environment and enhancing the quality and quantity of food production.

"It virtually touches everything we do every day," Meaders said.

Meaders isn't sure of exactly what he wants to do in his next career, but he said he feels the possibilities are endless.

Phil Gibson, the director of the bioscience program, said the courses prepare students to work in a lab and lead to high-paying jobs.

"We do get a lot of students that want to help people. They want to help people in some way," Gibson said. "They're interested in science, but they don't want to draw blood.

"You don't need a bedside manner to work in a lab, but you're still helping people."

Mary Beth Byerly, Gwinnett Tech's executive director for institutional advancement, said the program was created because the area was losing companies that were considering relocating here but didn't feel there was an available work force.

Gibson said one challenge in attracting students to the program is that bioscience isn't as easy to define as a program such as nursing. In fact, he said a lot of students enroll in the program because they aren't able to get into the highly competitive nursing program.

In the past three years, Gwinnett Tech's enrollment has increasingly grown, and the bioscience program is no exception. The program had the biggest gain this quarter -- up 152 percent.

Students said they feel the open-ended opportunities that stem from the program are a perk.

Jenny Hedges, who studied marine biology at the University of West Florida, said she couldn't find a job in her field when she moved here. Like Meaders, she planned to study radiologic technology, but she found she did not enjoy anatomy and physiology.

When she learned about the certificate program in environmental lab technology, Hedges switched to that program. She took a chemistry class and decided to pursue the associate degree in bioscience.

"Seventy-five percent of students don't realize that biotechnology is really in everything," she said. "That's why it's so cool."

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