Baldwin embraces role as pharma pathways program coordinator

Pharmaceutical companies in the region need workers. It’s Chenona Baldwin’s job to make sure students have a clear path to those opportunities.

Chenona Baldwin stands in the Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building overlooking 10th Street. Baldwin is the pharma pathways coordinator for the Eastern Region Pharma Center. (Photo by Ken Buday)

Baldwin has been hired as the Pharma Pathways Program Coordinator for the Eastern Region Pharma Center at East Carolina University.

“I’m still getting my feet wet, but so far, I’m loving it,” she said.

What she loves most is the opportunity to help students. She said her philosophy fits perfectly with Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of ECU’s College of Engineering and Technology, of which the pharma center is a part.

“The passion that Dr. Ploehn and his team have for student success is my passion,” Baldwin said. “I’ve always been an advocate for people. Being in a position to where I can help build that foundation for this new program, build that bridge between ECU and the pharmaceutical industry and help the students, I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”

Funded through ECU and a nearly $1.9 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, the Eastern Region Pharma Center is designed to teach students and current pharmaceutical employees advanced manufacturing techniques and address a need for pharmaceutical workers with four-year college degrees in an area known as the BioPharma Crescent in eastern North Carolina.

About 70,000 employees work in nearly 800 life sciences companies in North Carolina. Since 2020, the industry has already exceeded five-year growth projections with the addition of 10,250 new jobs. The average annual salary in the biosciences industry is roughly $97,000, according to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Pitt, Johnston, Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties in eastern North Carolina are home to a variety of pharmaceutical companies, including ThermoFisher Scientific, Mayne Pharma, Novo Nordisk, Grifols, Pfizer and CMP Pharma.

While the pharma center is housed in ECU’s Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building, Pitt, Johnston, Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe community colleges are also part of the project. Baldwin will be working directly with those colleges to funnel students into advanced degrees at ECU that will put them in positions to obtain high-paying pharmaceutical jobs in the region.

“I’ll be advising students as well as serving as the liaison and building those partnerships with the community colleges,” she said. “I’ll be telling students about the program and trying to link that pathway for students to come in, get their degree and then transition to a job here in eastern North Carolina with one of our partner companies.”

She said some students may not understand that their degrees in subjects such as chemistry, engineering or biology — or even in programs such as business, distribution and logistics or computer science — can lead to careers in the pharma industry.

“Just explaining the program to the students is needed so that they’ll gain a better understanding of it,” Baldwin said. “I think students hear about it and think it can be really complicated. I think students need to understand that it is obtainable. It may take some time and it will take work and studying on their part, but it is doable.”

Baldwin said one of her goals will be to advise students on the proper path to take.

“It’s always good for students to come in and talk with an advisor so they know that if this is the path they want to follow, that these are the courses they need to take to get there,” she said.

She also plans to work with the pharmaceutical companies to create avenues for students.

“I want to reach out to the companies to make sure we have that pathway there so that the students are able to transition to a position,” she said. “That could be entry level while they’re still in school. Giving them that hands-on experience may help them understand more and they’ll be able to say, ‘I do like this. This is something I want to invest in,’ versus working in a job that may have nothing to do with their degree and doesn’t offer them a pathway to what they want to do.”

Baldwin graduated from Liberty University with a degree in business administration and a specialty in marketing. She also earned her Master of Business Administration from Liberty. She worked in the medical and mental health fields for 13 years before she moved to a role in higher education to help students. Her husband, Gerald Baldwin, is the Partnership Teach coastal consortium coordinator in ECU’s College of Education.

“I switched to higher education, and I absolutely love it,” Baldwin said. “My husband has worked here at ECU for eight or nine years. I love how ECU cares about its staff, but they really care about their students’ success.”

Students interested in a pharmaceutical career can contact Baldwin via email or can contact ECU’s College of Engineering and Technology advising office via email.

The ECU Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building is home to the Eastern Region Pharma Center. (ECU photo)