Students learn about bioprocess engineering during visit to pharma center

Seventh grader Mazahri Dantonio took away a big lesson from a tour of the bioprocess engineering labs in East Carolina University’s Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building.

“I didn’t know there was so much stuff in coffee,” she said.

Seventh grader Mazahri Dantonio works on an experiment to separate coffee into its compounds using chromotography in the Eastern Region Pharma Center.

Dantonio was among a group of two dozen Wellcome Middle School students to tour the building and learn about bioprocessing thanks to the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce Grow Local program and the Eastern Region Pharma Center.

As part of the tour, the students participated in an experiment in which they separated the compounds in coffee using chromatography.

“It was interesting,” Dantonio said.

Jason Henderson held up two test tubes, one of which was nearly clear while the other was a pale brown compared to the dark brown coffee with which they started.

“It was really fun,” Henderson said. “I like how they just didn’t explain it to us. They let us try it.”

Henderson said he was interested in bioengineering or biochemistry because he could “make stuff and help the world.”

Students also got a close look at a water desalination process in another lab as part of the event designed to get them interested in careers in bioprocess engineering or biopharma, careers they can continue right here in the local area.

That’s exactly why the Eastern Region Pharma Center (ERPC) was glad to host the students. The pharmaceutical industry is a key component of the region’s and state’s economy, growing by $2.1 billion last year.

The pharma center, which began with a $1.9 million grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, aims to help supply the industry with the important jobs that help support people’s health.

“Part of the mission of the ERPC is to provide opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry and provide those pathways for students to those careers” said Dr. Loren Limberis, engineering associate professor and director of the pharma center. “That’s why we’re trying to do, and this is a perfect way to do that and to help the students see and do things so that they can understand what goes on in this building.”

The College of Engineering and Technology also hosted about 40 A.G. Cox Middle School students, who toured labs in the Science and Technology Building and learned about robotics, computer networks and other technologies.

In all, nearly 3,000 Pitt County middle and high school students participated in Grow Local Week, which found support in ECU and 86 businesses and companies that hosted students and showcased career opportunities in the area.

“Early exposure to career options is an essential component to preparing students for the workforce of the future,” said Trent McGee, president and CEO of the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce.  “Through a collaborative approach, Grow Local brings to light several career pathways available in Pitt County, provides students with the opportunity to experience an actual career and connects businesses to future employees — all of which will assist with talent retention and reinforce economic opportunities within Pitt County.”

Seventh grader Zy’mauri Brown looks as coffee is separated into its compounds using chromotography.