Indiana University of Pennsylvania has received more than $460,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a specialized Biosafety/Biorisk Management Certificate program at IUP.

The program will combine the expertise of IUP’s Department of Biology and the Department of Safety Sciences. N. Bharathan and Tracey Cekada, chairpersons of the two departments, respectively, are the leaders of the project.

“Both of these departments have well-deserved outstanding reputations regionally and nationally, and we are very proud to be part of this important initiative” Steve Hovan, interim dean of the Kopchick College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said. “Not only will this training program benefit the health and safety of our biosafety workforce, but it also gives IUP students that extra edge as they seek careers in this field.”

The funding spans the next five years.

The curriculum for the online program, which is designed to be completed within a year, is still being finalized, with plans for coursework to begin by fall 2023. It is expected to draw about 15 students in the first cohort. Students who complete the program will receive a Biosafety/Biorisk Management Certificate.

Students that complete the program will become competitive for biorisk management positions in a number of industries, including universities, federal government, biotech, human and veterinary facilities, or pharmaceutical facilities.

This certificate may also provide professionals with some of the required continuing education credits needed when seeking their Certified Biological Safety Professional certification through the American Biological Safety Association. Students should expect to be able to complete the certificate program within one year with the option of completing at their own pace.

“We were approached by the USDA to create this training in order to strengthen the pipeline of trained workers, especially as they anticipate a number of retirements of seasoned workers in the next several years,” Cekada said.

“Because the USDA takes the lead in processing agricultural commodities, they want trained personnel, and this certificate program will play a significant role in training these individuals,” Bharathan said. “However, the program and its courses will also be available to our current students in both majors.”

This certificate program is unique in that it combines coursework in both of the majors, Bharathan and Cekada said.

“We sketched out what the program graduates would need to be successful in the workforce through our initial conversations with the USDA,” Cekada said. “By creating the program to be offered via distance education, it will allow us to reach more students, especially those professionals already working in the field.”

This program meets a significant need, as currently, biorisk management professionals typically have been educated and/or trained in other areas of the life sciences and must learn the fundamentals of biorisk management on the job because of a lack of training programs in this area, Bharathan said.

There are a limited number of train-the-trainer programs that are in place to educate or certify biosafety professionals so they can train laboratory personnel, but they are very limited; there are currently no known active programs offering undergraduate and graduate certificates in biosafety offered from academia that would fulfill the intention and need of the IUP program, Bharathan and Cekada said.

IUP’s Department of Safety Sciences offers a bachelor’s degree and minor in Safety, Health, and Environmental Applied Sciences, and both a master’s degree and PhD in Safety Sciences. The bachelor of science degree program in Safety, Health, and Environmental Applied Sciences degree program is accredited by the Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission of ABET. The Department of Safety Sciences has been in the forefront of safety education since its establishment in 1971.

The Department of Biology offers bachelor’s degrees in biology, pre-medical, pre-veterinary, cell and molecular biology; ecology, conservation and evolutionary biology; and also offers the biology honors program, tracks on both pre-med and pre-vet, including cooperative programs with medical schools, internship opportunities, research projects, and hands-on access to instrumentation. The department also offers a minor in biology and a master of science degree in biology.