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The Biotechnology Society at Syracuse University has been growing as the field itself develops, said Kat Fallon-Underwood, the president of BSSU and an SU master’s student in biotechnology.

“The club is growing because with everything going on with COVID and Regeneron creating the antibody cocktail, and Pfizer making a vaccine, we’re kind of right in the field, everywhere,” Fallon-Underwood said.

The biotechnology undergraduate major is relatively new at SU — only available since the 2010-11 academic year when the university sought to keep up with the development of this up-and-coming field.

Tommy Magda, the treasurer of BSSU, described the biotech major as a combination of a biology degree and a business degree. By having courses in both the biology department and at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, the major gives students the tools to work outside of just the laboratory, including in jobs in marketing or administration, he said.

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“It allows you to have the benefit of not just working in research but also helps those students who are entrepreneur-ly smart,” Magda said.

Fallon-Underwood, along with BSSU vice president Grace Hartung and a few 2020 graduates, founded the club in May 2019 with the goal of giving as many opportunities as possible to students interested in the field of biotechnology.

“The vision was to create a space for like-minded individuals who share an interest or a passion in the biotechnology field,” Fallon-Underwood said.

BSSU is open to all majors and not only provides opportunities to speak to others excited about biotechnology but also prepares students for life after college. Members network with speakers from major companies in the field and participate in workshops for resume writing, interview skills and negotiating salaries.

The vision was to create a space for like-minded individuals who share an interest or a passion in the biotechnology field

Kat Fallon-Underwood, president of The Biotechnology Society at SU

Fallon-Underwood, who interned at the pharmaceutical company Regeneron, works to bring that company and others like it to speak to students in the club so the club members can have access to opportunities like hers.

“It’s just stuff you don’t learn in the classroom,” Fallon-Underwood said. “We want our members to have that same experience and to gain their confidence and to find their place.”

The wide-ranging activities in the biotech club are done with the future of the students involved in mind, Magda said. The club works to give their members an edge in a competitive environment by helping them get internships and network.

SU biology professor Surabhi Raina added that about a dozen students got internships and even jobs as a result of the opportunities the club provided.

“They really are working hard to expose the students to the companies and other things like how to make a resume, how to negotiate, to bring them up to speed, to bring them to the level where these students will feel comfortable after they finish (college),” Raina said.

Magda, for instance, got an internship at Acumen Detection, a local company that works with dairy farms, through his connection with the society’s former president. At this internship, Magda is getting the real-world experience he practiced at BSSU, he said.

Professor Raina said she sees BSSU as a perfect addition to the work that is done inside the classroom.

“It’s an overlap, a good overlap between their job market, wherever they want to go to and what they are learning,” Raina said.

Fallon-Underwood will graduate with her master’s degree in biotechnology in May, and she said she is confident she’s leaving the club with many new skills and resources it needs to succeed.

“It’s going to grow,” Fallon-Underwood said. “It’s going to thrive. Like we said, biotech is only growing, and everyone is really interested in what’s going on with it.”

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