As Gov. Bev Perdue and others gathered outside to dedicate Rowan-Cabarrus Community College's $26million classroom and laboratory building at the North Carolina Research Campus, Monica Ridgeway was hard at work inside.
Ridgeway, 45, of Kannapolis, a biotechnology major, was learning to grow a cell line in one of the building's labs. Her instructor, Meghan Davis, previously did cancer research at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
"I would love to work in a lab," Ridgeway said. "Research is what fascinates me - medical research."
Ridgeway and her 10 classmates are just the students who the dignitaries outside said they hope to educate for jobs in sophisticated research labs on the campus and in private industry.
"Fourteen hours a day, up to 300 students of all ages, from across North Carolina, and their teachers will be working hard in this building," Perdue said Thursday morning. "When they graduate, they will have the real 21st-century skills they'll need to be marketable in today's economy."
The students have the same lab equipment that world-class researchers use and learn the same theories, Perdue said.
They will be ready, she said, to join scientists at the campus who are working to find cures for diseases and develop healthier foods that are also more sustainable for farms.
"This is a big day for North Carolina and our people," Perdue said.
The three-story building opened Aug. 16 with about 160 students and some of the highest-tech equipment in the world, Rowan-Cabarrus officials said. The students are working toward associate degrees in biotechnology.
On a tour Thursday morning, Rowan-Cabarrus official DeAnn Basden pointed out the fume hoods in one lab, used to detect and remove harmful chemicals, and the pipettes in another room that hold 1 microliter of liquid, an amount equal to a tenth of a raindrop.
In a bioprocessing lab, students learn skills used in the biopharmaceutical industry.
In another lab, they learn PCR analysis, which creates millions of precise DNA replications from a single DNA sample. PCR's numerous applications include paternity testing, assistance in criminal investigations and detecting cancers such as leukemia and lymphomas.
The building has 10 labs and 10 classrooms, about 30 faculty and staff offices, a library, conference rooms, a student center and a room that seats 95 for community events.
The state is funding a 20-year lease on the 62,332-square-foot building. After 20 years, the facility will belong to the college.
Rowan-Cabarrus officials said the building represents a new era for N.C. community colleges, as its students and researchers work side-by-side with researchers from universities and companies who are based at the campus.
Billionaire Dole Food owner David Murdock founded the campus, opening the $1.5billion biotechnology complex in October 2008. His goal is to make it the world's "epicenter" of nutrition and disease research. Dole is the world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Universities with a research presence on the campus include N.C. State, Duke, UNCChapel Hill, UNCCharlotte, N.C. Central, N.C. A&T State and UNCGreensboro.
Monsanto Co., the world's leading provider of biotech crops, announced earlier this year that it signed a long-term lease at the campus to accelerate research into improving the taste and nutrition of fruits and vegetables.
Murdock, 87, told Thursday's gathering that he intends to keep building on the campus. His plans were delayed by the nationwide economic downturn, he said.
"I will continue to build here," he said. "I will continue to add to the fantasy of what you would like to see here."