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Member Spotlight: Andria Thomas

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Andria Thomas, AA
Solano Community College

Andria Thomas is an ISPE Student Member who established and presides over the Solano Community College Student Chapter of ISPE, which has a four-year bachelor’s degree program in BioManufacturing. Andria has recruited numerous student members to the Solano Student Chapter, which launched in 2018 and has held exciting and educational workshops, programs, and events. She has ambitious plans to grow the Student Chapter into the largest in ISPE. We talked with Andria to learn a little more about the energetic and enthusiastic ISPE Student Member and Student Chapter President.

As a mom with young children, what led you to return to school to obtain a degree in Biomanufacturing?

I always felt that it was very important to lead by example. I want my children to be educated, intelligent, and well-informed individuals that will make an impact on the world. I would also like them to see what a strong, dedicated, and independent woman looks like. I want them to understand that great things are worth working for and that pursuing a career that you are passionate about is something to be admired. The best way that I can do that is to pursue my bachelor’s degree in something that I am passionate about and that I feel makes a difference. For me, this is Biomanufacturing.

Tell me a little about the program at Solano Community College?

Solano Community College is extremely fortunate to have been selected as one of 15 pilot program colleges able to offer a bachelor’s degree in Biomanufacturing. Every day we are given the privilege of working in a state of the art, $34.5 million biotechnology facility with laboratory space designed specifically to mirror the floor plan of a typical biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant. We have been gifted with the opportunity to receive hands on training with 3L, 20L and 100 L fermentation vessels as well as appropriate techniques and training associated with cell harvest and downstream processing. Most importantly, however, we are being given the appropriate tools to intelligently troubleshoot these processes so that we may bring value to a future employer. Our curriculum boasts an extremely well-rounded course load offering courses in Biomanufacturing Process Engineering Principles, Design of Experiments, Facility Design, Bioprocess Monitoring and Control on the experimental side to Advanced Topics in Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs, Supply Chain & Enterprise Resource Planning, Sign Sigma & Lean Manufacturing, Methods in Quality Improvements, Investigations and Audits, Emerging Trends in Biomanufacturing Quality, Bioethics, Technical Writing and Project Management on the quality and business side.

As President of the Solano Community College Student Chapter of ISPE, what are some of the programs you’ve developed and opportunities you’ve discovered? Any current activities you’d like to talk about?

We are currently working on a few projects for our program as part of ISPE. I have found that drawing industry experts into our classes to tie their industry knowledge and experience in with our curriculum really helps to make the connection between our courses and industry. Last semester we placed a lot of focus on targeting former Solano alumni to share their experiences with students to provide inspiration as well as to give them insight into what types of careers may be available to them upon graduation. To that end, my team and I have put together a Facility Design Speaker Panel with the help of ISPE Members Heather Bennett and Joel Banks to give students an idea of what it takes to build or renovate a pharmaceutical facility to fit customer needs for production and what types of careers may be available to students along this particular path. Another upcoming project we have planned is a resume workshop which will be hosted by an industry recruiter on behalf of the Solano Student Chapter of ISPE. That project was planned in anticipation of our largest project yet, which was put into motion by the Heather Bennett & Jim Dekloe, ISPE Industry Advisor and ISPE Faculty Advisor, respectively, which is an Industry Advisory ISPE event hosted at Solano College. This event will provide students with insight into future industry trends as well as to provide our upcoming graduates with valuable networking opportunities.

What can you tell us about some of the positive experiences you’ve had during your involvement with ISPE?

Heather Bennett has been absolutely fantastic!!! She has found a way to help bring every idea we have had to fruition. She always takes time to mentor and really helps to inspire strong leadership. Joel Banks was also a tremendous help with our facility design speaker panel; he put our request out to the ISPE network and within hours we had filled every speaker slot and had offers for future assistance continuing to pour in. Our chapter faculty advisor, Jim DeKloe, is also extremely encouraging and supportive of our various projects and has gone out of his way to make sure that we have a platform available to us to make our projects successful. He is great about bringing attention to ISPE and the value that it provides and is quick to point out our contributions as a Student Chapter -- he is our biggest champion at the school! I am continually amazed at the generosity of every single one of these outstanding working individuals who take time from their hectic schedules to share their knowledge with our students. This is such an amazing organization!!!

As students, we have been the recipients of incredible generosity. Debbie Kaufmann & Wanda Neal have been tremendously helpful and responsive to any questions we have had as a chapter and have gone out of their way to provide us with amazingly generous opportunities. We were sponsored to attend the Facilities of the Future Conference and we were also provided an opportunity to attend an ISPE training course on Pharmaceutical Project Management (Trish Melton was stellar!). Both of these events were enlightening and provided valuable industry insights. The ISPE members in attendance really made an effort to share their advice, offers of mentorship and left us feeling valued and inspired. It really brings a smile to my face to see our student members excited, encouraged, and eager to attend future events. This is going to be an amazing year!