News-Star: Community

Johnston students to ‘Discover the Plasma’ through Grifols partnership

Grifols, Johnston County’s largest private employer, is forging a partnership with the county’s public schools.
Grifols, Johnston County’s largest private employer, is forging a partnership with the county’s public schools. FILE PHOTO

Eighth-graders will learn about blood plasma and the life-saving therapies it can produce through a partnership between Johnston County schools and one of the Triangle’s largest biopharmaceutical manufacturers.

Grifols, which employs more than 1,600 people at its processing plant in Clayton, worked with school administrators and Johnnston Community College to create “Discover the Plasma,” an educational module that middle school science teachers will start using in the spring.

Through the program, students at three pilot schools will use an interactive website, games and lab activities to work their way through the five-part course on plasma.

Two years ago, the company first approached Johnston County schools and Johnston Community College about developing the program. Amy Durham, the company’s director of quality compliance and training, said Grifols wants to spark students’ interest in science and careers in the industry.

“We strive to be good community partners, and this program allows us to help educators show students just how exciting science can be and how it is used every day right here in Johnston County,” Durham said.

Grifols says it worked with an educational vendor in Spain, where the company is headquartered, on the graphics, website and demonstration videos that teachers will use in the classroom.

Johnston County schools and the community college helped Grifols draft the program’s content, which educators designed to meet curriculum requirements.

Leslie Holston, director of biotechnology at Johnston Community College, said the content is specific enough to give students a glimpse at what Grifols does at its Clayton plant and abroad.

“There is an information gap in students coming along and knowing what’s in their backyard,” Holston said.

Holston, who has worked at the community college for seven years, said interest in the biotechnology program comes mostly from returning students who graduated from high school and might have completed some college. She said she hopes the Grifols program raises students’ awareness of a thriving industry.

“Even during the recession, we didn’t see a downturn in people getting hired,” Holston said. “It’s one of the few sectors that for us didn’t change much.”

Grifols has had its share of growth of late. Earlier this year, the company opened a 155,000-square-foot fractionation facility that will double blood plasma production in Clayton. Grifols is also building a product-storage building and has plans for a warehouse and a 100,000-square-foot office building.

The company extracts proteins from plasma and purifies them for use in several therapies.

While Grifols is not saying how much it invested in the middle school program, it bought lab equipment like spectrophotometers and micropipettes for each school. In addition, each student will have a program booklet.

Teachers will implement the program next semester at Riverwood, Clayton and Selma middle schools.

“When these students get through with this six- to eight-day course, they will literally know everything about plasma,” said Johnston school board member Donna White.

Board member Keith Branch agreed. “I hope they realize in starting this program that it could be recognized worldwide,” he said.