Roche Academy to create new path for biology and chemistry students

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In September, the University of Indianapolis officially launched the Roche Academy to help students learn about and gain experience with medical diagnostic testing and equipment. The program is a partnership between UIndy and Roche Diagnostics, a large Indianapolis-based company that manufactures diagnostic medical instrumentation and equipment, according to Chair and Associate Professor of Chemistry David Styers-Barnett. This is an opportunity open to students in any field, but particularly those in biology and chemistry.

Graphic by Zoë Berg

According to Styers-Barnett and Associate Professor of Biology Roger Sweets, the program was created in part to help staff Roche’s service department, which the company is anticipating needing to hire for in the next few years. Additionally, the academy will also help students prepare for careers in the medical diagnostics field.

“The Roche Academy is a way of specifically training people to be well prepared to go into that job [servicing diagnostic equipment] and, along the way, to actually get experience at Roche and interact with the people at Roche and kind of find out, ‘is this a good match for me?’” Sweets said. “So the Roche Academy is really no different than a pre-med program or a pre-physical therapy program. It is a preparation for a specific kind of job.”

UIndy and other universities were approached by Roche for the potential partnership approximately a year and a half ago, according to Styers-Barnett and Sweets. After the application process was completed and UIndy was selected, both Roche and faculty in the chemistry and biology departments began work on creating curriculum and the structure for the academy.

According to Styers-Barnett and Sweets, students are admitted to the Roche Academy through an application process. They will take specific courses related to biology, chemistry and medical instrumentation during their first two years of school and then complete the application at the end of their sophomore or beginning of their junior year. Once admitted, students will have access to a paid internship in Roche’s service department, and possibly provisional employment at the end of their senior year.

Styers-Barnett said that he is hoping to eventually have a cohort of about 20 students in the program, but admittance will depend on how many Roche needs, as well as student interest. Sweets and Styers-Barnett said that they will act as liaisons between the university and Roche, as well as advisers to students in the program.

“…I’m actually learning it for a reason, not just because that’s part of the curriculum.”

Styers-Barnett said that the Roche Academy will give students the opportunity to see a side of the healthcare industry that they have not before. Through that, he said, students will be able to learn about other jobs that they could potentially go into once they graduate, whether it is with Roche or another company.

“We get a lot of students that come in and they want to be a doctor, they want to be a nurse, they want to be a physical therapist. And they know that because they’ve seen those careers in action. You go to your doctor, you go to see your physical therapist if you’re injured or you have something you need to work with,” Styers-Barnett said. “When you go to the doctor and you have a blood draw and they send it off to the lab for tests, we don’t experience that. That’s what Roche does. They work on the analysis side of things. When you get that blood drawn, it goes to the lab, it’s possibly or likely a Roche instrument that’s doing that analysis and there’s a technician running that analysis using some piece of sophisticated scientific equipment. So even if a student never intends to work in that field, having exposure to that kind of instrumentation and that side of the healthcare industry is really important for whatever it is that the end up doing. They can say, ‘Okay, I understand more about what that process is like.’”

Junior chemistry major Will Durchholz said that he had this experience. Over the summer, he and another student had the opportunity to participate in a pilot version of the program, which involved a ten week internship in the Roche Support Network. Durchholz said that he was able to have a variety of experiences, from working with different Roche employees to fixing instrumentation in the Fishers, Ind. repair shop and was also able to work on projects of his own. The two interns were also able to attend a three day conference in Chicago that Durchholz said showed them what Roche’s competition was working on. According to Durchholz, the internship benefited him in multiple ways, including showing him that there were other options besides medical school.

“It also helped me realize, you know, you go into class and you do a lot of things in class and you don’t know how it might translate into a job. And at Roche, all summer, I just saw different ways that what I’m learning here [at UIndy], with chemistry and different classes I’ve taken, how that translates to a job and how you’re going to use that in a real world situation,” Durchholz said. “So it [the internship] helped me feel better about what I’m learning because I know I’m actually learning it for a reason, not just because they’re putting it in front of me and that’s part of the curriculum.”

Durchholz said he will continue to be a part of the Roche Academy and is planning to intern with the company again next summer..

Both Styers-Barnett and Sweets said that they are excited to see where the program goes and how it impacts the students who are involved. According to Styers-Barnett, several students have shown interest and that the program as a whole will provide a deeper experience for those involved in the program, whether through access to industry experts or new instrumentation. Sweets said that the academy will also help students be involved with the company.

“They’re [students] going to see this other side past their program that even in a normal internship they wouldn’t be able to see,” Sweets said. “They’re really going to interact with the people that work there. They’re going to get specific preparation for certain kinds of jobs that they may have at Roche. I think it’s going to be an intersection of academia and business that we don’t usually get a chance to do.”

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