'We've expanded already and our trajectory is going up.'
DEVELOPING SKILLS: Rep. James R. Langevin at URI with students and faculty, from left: Anna Deleon, Stephanie Hernandes, Stephanie Piantedosi, Ben Javery and co-directors of biotechnology Greg Paquette and Denice Spero.
Ryan Tassone was a philosopher. Joe Desrosiers, a short-order cook. Neither was truly satisfied with their chosen career path.
Both now represent a new kind of worker – trained and educated through the University of Rhode Island’s biotech-manufacturing program – who officials, educators and scientists say can help thrust the city’s developing Knowledge District into a thriving educational and medical hub of the future.
“I got my degree in philosophy, and I realized I couldn’t [make] much of a career [with it]. My prospects were limited,” said Ryan Tassone, who now works at EpiVax on Clifford Street in the district. “I decided to see what was what out there and it seemed like a great idea. I jumped at the opportunity, and it worked out pretty well.”
The fact that Tassone and former colleague Desrosiers, who now works for the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, or I’ Cubed, at URI, are among the relative few program graduates actually working within the district only amplifies the need for additional funding and support – for the program and the employers, say supporters.
“We can only grow so fast, as a company that’s not venture-backed,” said Annie De Groot, CEO of EpiVax, and director of I’Cubed, adding that she’d be happy to hire more program graduates if she could. “We always look first at the URI program. We feel as a member of the community, that’s what we should be doing.”
Since the program began in 2004, it has graduated approximately 250 students. Isis Biopolymer, on Richmond Street, does not employ any graduates program directors could name. Beechtree Labs, on West Exchange Street, recently has taken interns.
Many former students have found full-time positions – a great number of them stimulated, as Tassone’s was, through an internship – at labs in Massachusetts and Connecticut.