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Introducing Biopharmaceutical Facility Design to Howard University’s Students

Ted Cohen, IPS-Integrated Project Services

Introducing Biopharmaceutical Facility Design to Howard University’s Students

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are pillars for IPS to focus on to make the organization stronger. As a way to support DEI and the community, IPS sponsored a group of its employees to spread knowledge about the life sciences industry by teaching Biopharmaceutical Facility Design at Howard University, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). The course was well-received by students and allowed IPS employees to connect with junior, senior, and graduate-level students to share practical applications of engineering into the industry. In typical chemical engineering curricula,  students receive very little practical schooling for different industries. This is based on the need to teach students the necessary theory that underlies these industries balanced against the limit of time for other topics. As a result, the students often do not get the opportunity to learn about the potential career paths in the life sciences or about the industry in general in their typical studies. IPS empowered employees to share their knowledge with students that would have otherwise had little exposure to roles for chemical engineers in the pharmaceutical industry. To support this initiative, IPS sponsored the course at Howard so the university could focus on utilizing its resources to support their other core courses and initiatives.

Ted Cohen led the course instruction. He started teaching after experiencing a gap in his mentorship throughout his college years. This inspired him to provide mentorship to students that he feels could benefit from it. His teaching experience before Howard was teaching as an adjunct professor at Rowan University and Villanova University.

During the summer of 2020, Ted Cohen reached out to Howard’s chemical engineering department chair to find out how he could donate his time and energy to exposing students to the life sciences industry. They offered him an opportunity to teach a 1.5-hour seminar to engineering students that September about the design of biopharmaceutical facilities and the role that process engineers play in that flow. He included details about how a biopharmaceutical facility goes from concept design to detailed design. Ultimately, the design results in the construction of the biopharmaceutical facility.

After receiving positive feedback from the students, Ted was asked to return in the spring semester to teach chemical engineering students twice a week. The Biopharmaceutical Facility Design course was the first of its kind taught at Howard to chemical engineering students, exposing them to design in the biopharma space.

Since chemical engineering students at Howard are not required to take biology courses, Ted wove in basic biology lessons for students to better understand terms and processes. One of the goals was to make students educated ambassadors that can participate in conversations at home and outside of school when people discuss the pharmaceutical industry. This general understanding allows them to bring facts and knowledge to the discussion and even expose students to career opportunities that they would otherwise have not known existed.

Ted used his framework from a previous class that he taught at Villanova University to develop the basic course outline. He brought in IPS experts in their fields to teach students, enriching the overall class experience by allowing experts to teach in their areas of expertise.

Jason Neal, Group Lead Mechanical at IPS, taught a lesson on how mechanical engineering is incorporated into the facility design, specifically facilities that will support the life sciences industry. His class demonstrated the rules and regulations that govern HVAC systems and their components in a building. Additionally, his class touched on the relationship between grades of space and air changes in a room and the relationship present between air changes and cost. As a member of the IPS employee resource group I.B.E.U.P. (IPS Black Employees United for Progress) and his professional experience, Jason connected on a personal level with the students. There is a large diversity gap when it comes to employees in the STEM field. STEM majors are challenging to pursue and having role models like Jason in the field can be encouraging for the students at Howard. Exposing students to professionals from their community throughout their education can provide that crucial professional socialization and personal support that can help strengthen belonging in engineering.

Vince Cebular, IPS’ Senior Vice President Compliance (CQV), taught a lesson on CGMP compliance, qualification, and validation. His section focused on giving an overview of what CGMPs are including their regulations, guidelines, standards, and industry publications, and the important regulatory agencies to be aware of. He taught students the difference between CGMP guidelines and standards, so students understand the two and how they impact a facility’s design. Students also learned about facility inspections and how the full validation life cycle prepares a facility to begin operation and ready to produce lifesaving products.

Carl Sexton, Director Process Architect, taught the lectures on the physical facility design. Having worked on the client-side before, Carl understands what facilities need to function properly and what the client looks for in their space. He explained to students that he uses his previous job knowledge to support our clients with their facility designs using adjacency and bubble diagrams. These diagrams were shown to the students so they could see how the complicated facility design drawings start with a simple idea map that lays out the whole design before creating the final CAD drawing.

In addition to experts from IPS, several industry leaders from Sanofi, Eli Lilly, and Lucas Pye Bio joined in the lessons. Students benefitted from these interactions because they could witness the design work from a critical owner-side perspective.

An important point woven throughout the course was the 6 attributes of an exceptional engineer, which are simplicity, curiosity, empathy, communication, commitment, and joy. These were reviewed with students and highlighted throughout the lectures where these applied. The simplicity and curiosity components are important because they drive the best technical design. Empathy and communication are critical because they are correlated to how the engineer understands the client’s needs. Lastly, commitment and joy are necessary because projects are long, challenging feats. All of these attributes combined will sustain the engineer during some of the more arduous portions of the design effort.

Students appreciated that this course differed from the typical engineering theory courses that they take. They liked how the class was grounded in practical skill application. They got to see how the lessons they learn in college would be applied in the real world in a future career. The exposure to actual examples from IPS’ previous projects gave tangible examples of how what they learned in this class affect and benefit the client. One student mentioned, “I learned so much about the importance of structuring a facility in a way that favors the production of the product being manufactured within the facility. Also, I thought that it is really cool that cleanrooms can be built off-site then transported to the facility to be assembled there rather than being directly built onsite. The fact that this decreases the amount of time it takes to build a facility and decreases cost really blows my mind! This course was truly amazing.”

Teaching at Howard was an impactful opportunity to bring knowledge, skill & passion to a group of students who otherwise would have not been exposed to the life sciences industry. Ted Cohen shares, “If this influences them and helps them to figure out what they want to do with their lives, then there was real value here. The students got a chance to do something that was industry applicable and got to network with industry professionals. Normally, they would have not gotten this if we did not teach this course at Howard."

“I am incredibly proud of IPS and our employees’ support to the prestigious academic institution that is Howard University,” states Mark Butler, IPS President and Managing Director-Americas. “We are committed to the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion for all individuals to thrive and to create a lasting impact on our industry. We need bright, talented professionals to fill an increasing gap in the engineering sector, particularly chemical engineering in the life sciences. By connecting underrepresented students with industry professionals, providing visibility and awareness of career opportunities, we can serve as a catalyst for long overdue changes to our industry.”


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