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Scientifically Speaking: Lab Science

Fall 2012

Scientifically Speaking

Hands-on careers that specialize in a number of laboratory science fields await students with the right skills.

Katherine Gutoski went from uncertainty to clarity regarding the college experience. “When I was at a four-year school, I was unsure of what I wanted,” she says. “The nice thing about Fox Valley Tech is that it gave me a clear sense of direction.”

Gutoski, 29, of Menasha, is a second-year student in Fox Valley Technical College’s Laboratory Science Technician program. She came to the college with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but wishes she had gone into science earlier. “I was attracted to Fox Valley Tech’s hands-on labs to study science,” explains Gutoski. “Unlike a four-year school, this college is pretty focused on what students need to do to find their passion in the workplace.”

Launched in 2010, FVTC’s Laboratory Science Technician program is very distinct. “Our program is unusual in that it integrates environmental, industrial, food, paper, and water elements,” says instructor and department chair Julie Maurina-Brunker. “Students gain a broad range of skills required to work in many different types of industrial labs.”

Like all educational offerings at FVTC, the Laboratory Science Technician program was designed to meet the needs of area employers. Working with an active advisory committee, Maurina-Brunker developed effective hands-on curriculum to complement a strong internship experience.

Gutoski is currently interning at Badger Laboratories & Engineering, an environmental lab in nearby Neenah. Her role there is to help test samples from sludge and wastewater to ensure that all chemical levels are within legal limits. “I felt prepared when I came to work here,” she recalls. “No one expects you to know everything, but I certainly had a solid understanding of how to run specific equipment and perform laboratory tests.”

Like Gutoski, many FVTC Lab Tech students have already gone to school in another field. “While some of our students are recent high school graduates, many have a two- or four-year degree but have joined our program to gain career training,” says Maurina-Brunker. “Others are being sent by employers to gain new skills. One student returned to school because she could not get promoted. She finished last spring and was promoted to quality assurance manager right after graduation.”

As the lab tech program continues to grow, it will also change to meet new needs. “We have a lot of online and hybrid classes designed for working adults,” states Maurina-Brunker. “We’re also considering adding shorter certificate offerings in specific areas such as food, paper, or environmental science. For those who wish to continue their education, we’re developing agreements that will help our graduates transfer credits.”

Just this year, national food legislation was passed that will mandate more testing on imported ingredients before they can be used in production. “This will increase local and national needs for skilled lab techs,” Maurina-Brunker explains.

For Katherine Gutoski, the program has helped define her career path. “I’ve recommended this program to other people who enjoy science, chemistry, and microbiology,” she states. “It’s a great experience.”

“I definitely see myself continuing to work in a lab,” says Gutoski.


Career Diversity

Laboratory science careers are wide open when it comes to working in a variety of specialized fields, such as:
  • Biotechnology Laboratory Technician
  • Chemical Technician
  • Dairy Laboratory Technician
  • Environmental Laboratory Technician
  • Food Laboratory Technician
  • Food Science Technician
  • Industrial Laboratory Technician
  • Laboratory Quality Assurance Technician
  • Municipal Wastewater Plant Operator
  • Paper Testing Technician
  • Research and Development Technician
  • Quality Assurance Manager
  • Water and Wastewater Laboratory Technician

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