Indiana University of Pennsylvania is addressing a need for trained professionals in the biosafety and biosecurity fields through its specialized Biosafety/Biorisk Management Certificate program.

These professionals play a key role in protecting against the transmission or mishandling of infectious agents in laboratories and other settings where biological materials are handled. For those students and professionals interested in pursuing a career in the sciences, this profession may be unknown. However, many countries face a shortage of these professionals and efforts are being taken through the development of educational programs such as this, to ensure a sustainable workforce.  

The program is now open for enrollment; information about the program is available on the IUP website at Biosafety/Biorisk Management Certificate.

Students who complete the program will become competitive for biosafety and 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 a Certified Biological Safety Professional certification through the American Biological Safety Association.

The certificate program is open to current undergraduate or graduate students and to non-students, including professionals working in the field. The program is designed to be completed in one year, with the option of entirely remote classwork or a hybrid model with both in-person and remote classes.

This certificate program, funded through a $460,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, combines 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.

The program begins with classes in the fall semester offered by the Department of Biology; coursework in safety sciences will be offered in the winter and summer semesters.

“IUP is proud to help the Department of Agriculture address the shortage of trained professionals in the biosafety and biorisk fields through this certificate program,” Dean of the Kopchick College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Steve Hovan said. “This program addresses a significant workforce need, and it also gives IUP students that extra edge as they seek careers in this field,” he said.

Current IUP students (both undergraduate and graduate) can apply coursework in their existing majors to meet the certificate program requirements.

Up to five $1,000 scholarships are available for qualified students who enroll in the program.

In addition, qualified students in the program who have completed at least 12 credits are eligible for a two-week externship program at a biorisk-biosafety facility, including a stipend for travel and short-term lodging.

“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 and strengthen the pipeline of trained workers, especially as the USDA anticipates a number of retirements of seasoned workers in the next several years.” Cekada said.

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

“IUP is the first non-agricultural institute selected by the Department of Agriculture to offer this biorisk and biosafety certificate,” Bharathan said. “The USDA said that they came to us because of the reputation of our programs, and because of the opportunity to merge biology and safety sciences coursework,” he said.

“We developed the curriculum following discussions with the USDA and the expectations of what students who complete the program would need to be successful in the workforce,” Cekada said. “The opportunity for students to take the program entirely via distance education allows us to reach more students, especially those professionals already working in the field,” she said.

Currently, biorisk management professionals typically have been educated and 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 certificate 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 is accredited by the Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission of ABET. The Department of Safety Sciences has been at 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.