The saying "a rising tide lifts all boats" is increasingly fitting for students of Stevens Institute of Technology’s Pharmaceutical Manufacturing & Engineering (PME) master’s program.
Due to a flood of goodwill from alumnus Jason Fitz ’13, PME students now have a career connection—and a pathway leading them into jobs matching their skills and interests.
"My experience at Stevens helped put me ahead of other candidates," he says. "Even today, when I tell people I have my master’s degree in pharmaceutical manufacturing from Stevens, it’s a great conversation starter. Not many schools have this program, in or outside the industry, and it’s a good way to communicate what the program is about."
Fitz is associate director of quality operations at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a Tarrytown-based company consistently ranked as one of the most innovative in the world by Forbes magazine. He is not only a graduate of the PME program, but also an adjunct professor within it. Fitz is such a fan of the program that he can’t stop saying good things about it.
"I loved how flexible the program was," he says. "I completed it online so I could do my coursework when I wanted, which was important because I was working fulltime and raising a family. My professors were also open, whether I contacted them by email, phone or in person. All of that made the program enjoyable to me. I feel like it really put me ahead of the game."
The PME program offers sought-after credentials for recent graduates or managers and career-shifters ready to transition into, or move up the ladder in, life sciences manufacturing. Good manufacturing practice (GMP) industries like pharmaceuticals need trained professionals who can command new technologies, modern facilities and quality assurance processes in a global regulatory environment.
Regeneron is a company that goes above and beyond to hire employees who tick all these boxes.
To help contribute to the culture of excellence at Regeneron, Fitz began developing a model for PME graduates to enter their career at the company with a unique advantage. "I always appreciated what Stevens did for me," he says. "I wanted to have the same impact on up-and-coming students that the program had on me."
What he came up is what is a pilot pipeline called TRAX, or Talent Recognition and Experimentation.
"I had seen executive track programs where a hire comes in at the executive director level and over the course of a year, they go through different positions to see where they best fit," Fitz says. "I thought something like that could also work for someone right out of school and set them on the path to success."
Fitz kicked off the program with PME graduate Sarah Roibal.
Roibal ’17 is the first PME graduate to test drive the TRAX program. She was president of the Women in Pharma association during her time at Stevens, and was also complimentary of her experience. "All the professors spoke not only from the readings but also from their own experiences. I don't think I’d have connected with material if it had been any other way," she says. "It was definitely what set the program apart."
The program also gave Roibal "inside knowledge of what the FDA was like and what pharmaceutical companies were like." That sort of inside knowledge impressed Fitz when he came to speak at an information session. "She was excited and passionate," Fitz recalls. "I thought she was well spoken and good at communicating her excitement. Basically, within 5 minutes I thought she'd be a good fit for Regeneron."
Fitz was so impressed by Roibal that he told his boss that Roibal "was a candidate who would fit very well into Regeneron" and was perfect for the TRAX pilot. "I got the job not even a month after I graduated," Roibal says. "My parents are still shocked."
Per the TRAX program, Roibal is rotating through three placements with the company over the course of a year. "Getting involved in various departments is providing me with a thorough background of the operations at Regeneron and helping me develop a quality mindset that I can apply regularly to my work," Roibal said. "All my knowledge helps me be an ideal employee for them." Right now, she’s a quality assurance operations associate. She believes she will thrive within the field—and stay with Regeneron.
"It was like all the stars aligned," Roibal says.
Rowena Dolot’s path to becoming an associate CMC regulatory sciences specialist at Regeneron was more traditional than Roibal’s.
Dolot completed her bachelor’s in chemical engineering at Stevens in 2016 and gained her master’s in pharmaceutical manufacturing and engineering in 2017. The PME program "caught my interest,” she says, "because I’d be able to pursue science and engineering to the benefit of other people’s health."
Dolot attended an info session Regeneron held at Stevens where she met Fitz. He encouraged her to apply for an open position. "I applied as soon as I could," she says. "Reading the job description, I knew all the classes I’d taken at Stevens—pharmaceutical manufacturing, pharmaceutical engineering, chemical engineering, even modern literature—helped me prepare for a job like this. Because of the way Stevens runs their classes I was able to develop a writing background not many engineers had, and an engineering background that not many writers had. I was perfect for this position… and Regeneron was excited to see and hear a candidate with my background."
Dolot is excited about her opportunity with Regeneron. She’s also "really thankful to Stevens for helping me prepare for a job in the pharmaceutical industry," she says.
The PME program prepared Roibal and Dolot for their careers by exposing them to professors with deep, real-world experience guiding them every step of the way toward success. The program hopes to expand on that experience by making the TRAX program a permanent option for qualified students. The TRAX pilot program is also hoping to create similar programs with other pharmaceutical companies, as well as expand the idea to similar Stevens programs like the biomedical engineering program.