First-In-Nation Vaccinology Minor Builds Workforce for Fargo–Moorhead Life Science Companies

A first-in-the-nation undergraduate vaccinology minor is helping to build a knowledgeable workforce for existing biopharmaceutical businesses in the Fargo, N.D.–Moorhead, Minn. metropolitan area. It's also making the community an even more attractive destination for other life science companies around the nation.

Tri-College University (TCU) launched the program in the fall of 2011. TCU provides complementary curricula and allows students to take courses at any of its three partner institutions. The first student to earn the minor is expected to graduate in the spring of 2012.

TCU Provost Tim Flakoll said there is significant potential for the vaccinology minor to positively impact both undergraduate experiences and the region's long-term economic growth.

"It's a first in the nation, and it's a win-win for everyone involved," he said. "This new minor gives undergraduate students great opportunities to conduct research, interact with industry experts and secure relevant experience through industry internships. Beyond that, the program's success will lead to increased recognition of the Fargo Moorhead region as a destination for quality research in the life sciences." Flakoll also said there is significant "takeoff potential" for the new minor, given the fact that there are more than 2,500 students currently enrolled in life sciences and health-care fields at TCU institutions.

The partnership responsible for putting together the minor included TCU, the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation (GFMEDC), a major regional health-care system, and each of the community’s four-year higher education institutions. In addition, the leaders of the North Dakota Center for Biopharmaceutical Research and Production and the Concordia College Global Vaccine Institute worked with their contacts in the industry to determine the most important concepts, skills and experiences to include in a vaccinology minor program, and the group incorporated that feedback when developing the curriculum. 

"This really illustrates the high level of private-public collaboration that is making great things happen in this community," said GFMEDC Business Development Director Mary Batcheller. "People here understand it takes everyone working together to make Fargo Moorhead an attractive and profitable place for companies in the life sciences and other high-tech industries to compete and thrive."

The idea for a collaborative vaccinology minor originated with strategic planning initiated by the GFMEDC. That process ultimately led to the Cass Clay Economic Plan, a blueprint for further developing and diversifying the Fargo Moorhead economy. The plan identified vaccinology as one of several promising areas for growth, one that already had several businesses engaged in the community.

In 2010, the GFMEDC began working with leaders from TCU and each of the four-year educational institutions to create a curriculum and develop the vaccinology minor. Sanford Health created a Vaccinology Professorship Endowment of $150,000 to fund the faculty investment.

"The reach of this program extends far beyond the Fargo Moorhead region when you consider the significant public health need for vaccinology expertise across our nation," said Sanford Medical Center President Dennis Millirons. "We are inspired to be a part of a program that brings together innovative medical research, growth for our community, and unprecedented opportunities for students."

Tri-College University: A Unique Collaboration

Tri-College University is a unique consortium of Fargo–Moorhead's four-year higher education institutions: Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn.; Minnesota State University Moorhead, Moorhead, Minn.; and North Dakota State University, Fargo, N.D. It allows students enrolled at any one of them to take courses at the other two at no extra charge, and to apply the credits toward graduation requirements at the home campus. Through Tri-College, students access world-class programs, resources such as full access to all three libraries, and the benefits of a "combined campus" of nearly 30,000 students.