Biology Students Further Research and Relationships

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Photo by John Carmody, Strategic Marketing and Communications

School of Biological Sciences forms unique partnership

Through its unique expertise and deep connections, UMKC offers its students valuable opportunities.

This summer, three University of Missouri- Kansas City School of Biological Sciences students had the opportunity to further the effectiveness of medical research through externships offered by PRA Health Sciences in Lenexa, Kansas.

This new program developed through a chance meeting between Gerald Wyckoff, professor of biology and Doug Dockhorn, vice president of global analytics and reporting at PRA, a contract research organization.

“People are amazed when they learn about our need for data scientists, data architects and analysis. We need local students to know that they have a dynamic company here in Kansas City that needs them.”

-Doug Dockhorn, vice president at PRA, a contract research organization

“Last February I was sitting in a digital health business series hosted by (the bioscience consortium) BioKansas, and Doug Dockhorn mentioned that they had jobs they needed to fill.”

Wyckoff realized that he had an opportunity to help PRA identify the talent they needed and provide critical experience for his students. Wyckoff began establishing the externship and identifying students who would be a good fit. He recruited Jerry Harris, Luan (Kevin) Ngo and Daniel Wurm.

“These students are adventurous,” Wyckoff said. “They were willing to take the chance and they have been able to do real, applicable work. I think the experience has been eye opening on both ends.”

While the trio did not know what to expect, they were excited with their autonomy.

“It was an office environment,” Wurm said. “We were brainstorming, going to meetings and sending emails.”

As they adjusted to corporate structure, they were also focused on identifying a profile for synthetic patients to further the framework of the research.

“We had a lot of subject matter experts there who were able to help us,” Ngo said. “There are different teams working on different subjects. Our supervisor, [Kevin Rooney,] is a Ph.D., so we were able to go directly to him for guidance and assistance on the project.”

The team became an integral component of the process.

“Our work was based on the biology side,” Harris said.  “Some of the information we took back to Professor Wyckoff to clarify.  If we hadn’t been there, they probably would have had a team of programmers or engineers working to identify the structures that we were designing. There’s just so much more to the science than the programmers actually see.”

“The interns came with a lot of enthusiasm and tackled this project head-on,” Rooney said.  “The result of their effort provided excellent value in the project they delivered. Likewise, I believe PRA provided the interns with a broader perspective on how leveraging data through collaboration can significantly improve business objectives.”

Dockhorn was hoping that PRA could connect with the academic community through his work with BioKansas, but the outcome was greater than he expected.

“The fact that we quickly engaged the right motivated leaders was a bonus,” Dockhorn said. “Fortunately, we had a real business case that needed to be resourced. The timing of the interns worked perfectly.”

Dockhorn hopes PRA will be able to continue this type of partnership.

“We need to build and sustain a workforce that many folks outside the industry don’t necessarily see as applicable to PRA,” Dockhorn said. “People are amazed when they learn about our need for data scientists, data architects and analysis. We need local students to know that they have a dynamic company here in Kansas City that needs them.”

All three students would definitely recommend this type of externship to other students.

“Our students consistently meet my expectations and exceed them,” Wyckoff said. “They are the ones saying, ‘I can solve this problem.’ They have visible success. This reveals to them that they can do more and they push themselves so much further than I would push them.”

“The reach of this program is well beyond three students.”

| Article by Patricia O’Dell, Strategic Marketing and Communications


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