In this feature ATE Central continues our "I Am ATE" series, which showcases an ATE PI, staff member, industry partner, or other ATE stakeholder. We are excited to help spread the word about the wonderful people who are at the core of the ATE community and the innovative work everyone is doing.
Name: Thomas C. Tubon, Jr.
Title: Faculty, Biotechnology Program / PI, NSF ATE Cell & Tissue Manufacturing Coordination Network / Co-PI, NSF ATE InnovATEBIO National Center
Institution: Madison Area Technical College
Center Name: NSF ATE InnovATEBIO Center
ATE Central: How did you become involved with ATE?
Tubon: In 2009, I started my position at Madison College as a faculty member in the Biotechnology Program. Under the mentorship of emeritus faculty and seasoned NSF ATE Grant PIs Dr. Lisa Seidman and Dr. Jeanette Mowery, I was given the opportunity to learn about NSF and the ATE programs by way of the NSF Bio-Link National Center for Biotechnology. My first experience with the NSF ATE came shortly after I was on-boarded at Madison College, with an opportunity to work on an NSF-funded project to support workforce education for post-baccalaureate students in Biotechnology. The following year, we were awarded funding from NSF ATE to develop a related program in Stem Cell Technologies, which I served as a Co-PI and subsequently transitioned to PI during the course of the grant term (DUE 1104210). This success of this project was followed by a second funded proposal in 2015 to disseminate our education and workforce development curriculum in Stem Cell Technologies nationwide (DUE 1501553). I currently serve as the Principal Investigator for the NSF ATE Coordination Network Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing of Cell and Tissue-based Products, which was funded in 2018 (DUE 1801123). This October, our team was awarded funding for the NSF ATE InnovATEBIO National Center for Biotechnology, headed by Dr. Linnea Fletcher at Austin Community College.
ATE Central: Tell us about the goals of your project/center.
Tubon: 1. InnovATEBIO National Center
The InnovATEBIO National Biotechnology Education Center (DUE 1901984) — named for the connectivity between Advanced Technological Education (ATE) and Biotechnology Education (BIO) — will consolidate several biotech education projects into a national network to share best practices and expand research opportunities for students at two-year institutions and in secondary schools nationwide.
The InnovATEBIO Center will build a national network of educators, students, alumni, and industry partners including incubators, trade organizations, and professional societies to develop and share best practices in biotechnology workforce development. Our partners include: Madison College (Madison, Wisconsin), Austin Community College (Austin, Texas), Finger Lakes Community College (Canandaigua, New York), Forsyth Technical Community College (Salem, North Carolina), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories (DNA Learning Center) (Cold Spring Harbor, New York), New York City College of Technology (New York, New York), Digital World Biology (Seattle, Washington), The Biopharmaceutical Technical Center (BTC) Institute (Madison, Wisconsin), Bay Area Bioscience Center (CSBI Group) (San Francisco, California), Bay Area Bioscience Education Community (San Francisco, California), Baltimore City Community College (Baltimore, Maryland), and Washington State University (Pullman, Washington).
The InnovATEBIO Center is focused on biotechnology technician education across the country, with a specific focus on building partnerships, leveraging the existing NSF ATE biotech project portfolio, and strengthening connections between high school and community college programs to increase the student opportunities to enter into the workforce. The center also will support research experiences and hands-on learning opportunities based in the community college. As part of the National Center, Madison College will serve as the National Hub for Emerging Technologies in the Biosciences and focus on public-private partnerships to advance the Skilled Technical Workforce.
2. NSF ATE Cell and Tissue Manufacturing Coordination Network
The goal of our NSF ATE Coordination Network (CN) is to formalize a network that promotes bio-economic growth through workforce development in the area of Advanced Manufacturing of Cell and Tissue-based Products (AMCTP). By AMCTP we refer to the use of cells (particularly but not exclusively stem cells) in applications that can involve complex tissues and organs and genome engineering. AMCTP requires a new kind of manufacturing that constructs biological systems in combination with natural or synthetic materials using robotics, microfluidics, 3-D printing, computational modeling, and novel types of engineering that we are only beginning to imagine. The products of AMCTP promise to deepen our understanding of the root causes of disorders and may provide effective methods for treating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, macular degeneration, and heart disease. There are ever-expanding career opportunities in this important field and there is an unmet need to develop a workforce with appropriate skills. Finding strategies to develop a skilled workforce in this complex area is a task best addressed by a network of stakeholders from education, government, and industry. On the front end, it is an imperative to include community representatives to help build a diverse workforce and inform the public about AMCTP.
ATE Central: What makes the work of your project/center unique?
Tubon: The InnovATEBIO National Center for Biotechnology is built on a strong community of practice created through the NSF Bio-Link Center. The new National Center builds on these prior successes and resources to create a new and transformative structure of distributed governance, specialized hubs, and new cross-agency and interdisciplinary partnerships. The InnovATEBIO Center team brings specific expertise and experience in leading diverse areas of Biotech and share the common vision of growth and change through embracing new and innovative approaches.
The Coordination Network for Cell and Tissue Manufacturing provides the platform for system-wide change for education and workforce development through vested partnerships. In the first year of the grant project we have secured the commitment and support of 16 larger national consortia and over 200 partners that represent a diverse pool of stakeholders in the Cell and Tissue Manufacturing space. We hope that these partnerships will lead to alignment between new and emerging industries and the ability to provide the manufacturing workforce to serve them. The scope of this work is seeded with NSF, but aims to break the boundaries between other federal agencies, foundations, and organizations, to create a resource that has the broadest impact possible.
ATE Central: Do you have any advice for new ATE grantees?
Tubon: Take advantage of the experience of the ATE Network and engage the community as much as possible with new ideas, sharing of best practices, and, importantly, what does not work. On the flipside, leverage the depth of experience and scope of accomplishments for prior and current ATE projects and centers to ask questions and gain assistance with your own goals and initiatives. At the end of the day, we all want to see the best outcomes and successes that make our work with ATE reach the highest benefit to the community, industry, and students we serve.
ATE Central: What's the best part about your work with ATE?
Tubon: The best thing about working with the NSF ATE is knowing that I’m part of the vehicle to implement constructive change and progress with the grant projects and centers. These projects and centers are engines for success that are all focused on creating a better life for so many through education and workforce development opportunities. I’ve been lucky enough to see the direct impact that ATE programs have had on both student success and industry growth.
ATE Central: Tell us about your favorite movie or book.
Tubon: When I was a growing up, my favorite movie was the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder and Peter Ostrum. As a kid, it was an escape into a wild world of the unimaginable. As an adult this still remains my favorite movie, but for totally different reasons. To me the main characters represent so much more now that I’ve followed a career path into education. It speaks to the amazing things people are capable of when given the chance make a difference.
ATE Central: Is there something that people might be surprised to learn about you, or something else you'd like to share?
Tubon: Despite the full schedule with teaching and working on grant projects, I always make the time to be with my wonderful spouse (Eugenia), my two incredible children (Gryffin and Sarah), my four-legged 100-pound black Labrador best-friend (Sookie), and her Shih Tzu sidekick (Chewie). I am thankful for their support through the years and could not do what I do without them.