Inaugural Class Awarded Master’s in Laboratory Science Degrees from Wadsworth Laboratory at NYS DOH

Dr. May Chu from White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Provided Keynote Address to Graduates

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 15, 2104) - The New York State Department of Health's (DOH) Wadsworth Center today conferred Master of Laboratory Science (MLS) degrees upon its first class of graduates from the program. The MLS Program, established in 2012, is the brainchild of Wadsworth Center Director Emeritus Dr. Lawrence Sturman, who delivered remarks at the ceremony.

The MLS program is unique because it is offered directly through DOH's Wadsworth Center, the state's public health laboratory; the program may be the only one of its kind in the nation. In addition to classroom-based coursework, the program includes 1,200 hours of hands-on, practical experience in the laboratory, including an eight-month capstone research project mentored by public health scientists. Students' work is utilized in the Wadsworth Laboratory and may be published in scientific journals.

"Through the MLS program, DOH is training the next generation of public health scientists in the laboratory setting so they are prepared to immediately enter the field," said Acting State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, M.D., J.D. "There is a workforce shortage in laboratory science. We are helping to address it through creating learning and career opportunities for these students."

The two-year, full-time program is limited to a maximum of five students per year to allow for one-on-one mentoring with the lab's leading scientists and researchers as well as rotations in Public Health Science and Environmental Health, Genetics, Infectious Diseases, Laboratory Quality Certification and Translational Medicine. Students accepted into the program are not charged tuition. The Wadsworth Center awards up to 5 scholarships in the amount of $10,000 annually to individual students based on academic merit and funding availability. Scholarships are provided to help offset student's personal expenses incurred during the course of study.

"Our students' experiences go well beyond the classroom. The hands-on laboratory experience enables them to apply leading-edge approaches to find the answers to real public health issues. They receive a world-class education working alongside and learning from some of the top public health scientists in their fields," said Jill Taylor, Ph.D., director of Wadsworth Center Laboratory.

"The MLS graduates are career-ready," said Christine Egan, Ph.D. "They have the background and knowledge to walk out of graduation and into a career in public health science. Two of our graduates have already been hired to do research at the Wadsworth Laboratory."

In her keynote speech to graduates, May Chu, Ph.D., assistant director for public health at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy discussed the role of precision medicine in public health.

"Wadsworth Laboratory is privileged to have a prestigious and inspirational speaker to address our first class of MLS graduates. Dr. Chu shares our and our students' passion for the future of public health. She has extensive experience in response to disease outbreaks and field work, including the 2001 U.S. anthrax attack, SARS in China, Lassa fever and Marburg virus outbreaks in Africa and pandemic influenza response," said Dr. Taylor.

Following in the footsteps of this year's MLS graduates, four students in the class of 2015 are completing year one of the program, and another five students have been accepted for the class of 2016.

Wadsworth Center Class of 2014 Graduates:

Dominick Centurioni, Stillwater, NY
Undergraduate degree from Union College
Capstone project: Finding a faster method to detect botulism, expediting the current four-day process to just four hours.
Employment after graduation: Working at Wadsworth Laboratory at the Center for Research in Diagnostics and Discovery, which was established with a National Institutes of Health grant awarded to Columbia University in partnership with Wadsworth and other researchers

Erin Parks Hughes, Guilderland, NY

Undergraduate degree from Syracuse University
Capstone project: Working to improve screening techniques for cystic fibrosis to reduce the number of false positive tests.
Employment after graduation: Awaiting word on a grant to work at the Newborn Screening Program at Wadsworth Laboratory

Jana McGinnis, Albany, NY

Undergraduate degree in Biology from the College of St. Rose
Capstone project: Identifying and classifying a new type of bacteria using traditional methods and the new technologies of matrix-assisted desorption/ionization time of flight mass spectrometry and whole genome sequencing
Employment after graduation: Awaiting word on a grant to work at Health Research, Inc. at Wadsworth Center Laboratory on food-borne investigations

Yan Zhu, Albany, NY

Undergraduate degree from University at Albany
Capstone project: Developing a test to detect drug-resistant mutations of Mycobacterium abscessus, a water contaminant that causes skin and soft-tissue infections
Employment after graduation: Wadsworth Center Laboratory, under an Emerging Infectious Disease fellowship from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Association of Public Health Laboratories

About Dr. May Chu:

Dr. Chu has participated in multiple outbreak responses and field work, including the 2001 US anthrax attack, SARS in China, Lassa fever and Marburg virus outbreaks in Africa and pandemic influenza response. Dr. Chu led the Laboratory Efficiencies Initiative at CDC that coordinated the US public health laboratory system's effort to adopt cost-savings practices and shared services models. Dr. Chu was part of the WHO team that fostered laboratory networks and quality laboratory management systems. Dr. Chu guided the WHO biosafety/biosecurity portfolio partnering with the European Union, US Departments of State and Defense, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Asian Development Bank. Dr. Chu also represented WHO at the Global Health Security Action Group-Laboratory Network, which is part of the G7-Mexico consortium.

Dr. Chu volunteered as the Chair of the International Board of the American Society for Microbiology, whose focus is on building sustainable microbiology programs and connecting with the global family of microbiologists through scientific partnerships and career development opportunities.

Dr. Chu is passionate about framing the future of public health services. As public health funding declines, public health scientists face unprecedented challenges to direct data collection, perform applied research and maintain quality services amidst rapid advances in technology and healthcare reform needs. The opportunity and challenge to create an interconnected national health system could transform surveillance, prediction and mitigation of individual and community health risks.

Dr. Chu received her B.S. from Michigan State University majoring in Microbiology and Public Health and her doctorate degree in Tropical Medicine and Medical Microbiology from the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa. She has authored over 66 peer-reviewed publications and chapters.