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October 30, 2003 Print this page

Mary Ubbens, First to Enroll in La Salle's Integrated Science, Business, and Technology Program, Now a Researcher at USDA/ARS Lab in Wyndmoor

Mary Ubbens, the first student to enroll in La Salle University's Integrated Science, Business, and Technology (ISBT) Program in 2000, is now working for the federal government doing research on bacteria found in food.

She is working with Dr. Gaylen Uhlich, of the Genomic Group of the Microbiology Research Unit at the United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS). The group is led by John Luchansky, Research Leader of the USDA/ARS Microbiol Food Safety Unit at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa.

The group is studying Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogenic bacterium that is food- borne. The goal of the project is to benefit consumers in finding ways for people to avoid getting sick from foods such as undercooked meats and seafood, unpasteurized dairy products, and fresh vegetables and fruits.

Listeria, which usually grows in the central nervous system, can lead to brain diseases, meningitis, and blood infections.

Ubbens, who was graduated from La Salle in 2003, works as a biological science laboratory technician in USDA/ARS's Microbiol Food Safety Unit. She says her research requires teamwork and effective communication. She said the ISBT program prepared her to work in small groups so that she feels comfortable working along with another person.

"Here, under Dr. Uhlich you are given direction but also flexibility for finding needed solutions," says Ubbens. "You are thinking about the necessary equipment, how long experiments will run, and ensuring the steps to complete the process. It is to my advantage that ISBT taught me to create an experiment from scratch."

Ubbens was hoping for a position in a biotech lab where she could help people recover from debilitating diseases through drug discovery. However, she now sees that her current position at the USDA as a different approach to assisting people.

With her new position, she enjoys the challenge of learning something new everyday. So far, she has received a crash course in genetics, cloning, and microbiology.

At La Salle, ISBT students have an opportunity to work with the latest lab equipment, making for an easier transition as Ubbens began her new job.

The ISBT program, initiated in September 2000, is different from traditional science programs because it gives students a team-oriented approach to science, computers, and liberal arts, enabling them to provide solutions to real-world problems.

An important attribute of ISBT graduates is their ability to quickly acquire the necessary information and knowledge relevant to a specific problem context.

"Teaching scientists to solve real problems makes them more attractive to high tech and biotechnology companies," said Dr. Nancy Jones, Director of La Salle's ISBT Program.
"In the past, it might have taken 10 years for an employee to learn the skills the companies wanted. Today, the companies can't wait that long."

By Karen Toner