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$2.5 Million NSF Grant for CLIMB Brings Biotech Opportunities to Concordia College Students

A new $2.5 million National Science Foundation grant will set 36 Concordia students up for success, pairing scholarships with academic and social support systems, mentoring, and internships with local industry partners.

Geared toward students with high financial need, the Concordia Leads: Instructing and Mentoring in Biotechnology program will offer three cohorts of 12 incoming students up to $15,000 annually, beginning in fall 2024.

The scholarship can be applied on top of others to potentially cover the full cost of college.

CLIMB will allow us to take what we do best at Concordia — teaching and mentoring students — and team up with partners in the local biotechnology industry to prepare these students for careers in a field that offers tremendous opportunities both in our region and across the country.

Dr. Mark Jensen

Chemistry professor and principal investigator of the NSF grant

“It gives them not just the money for college, but it sets them up for success by giving them the other tools in the toolset,” said Dr. Mark Jensen, chemistry professor and principal investigator of the NSF grant.

It will be open to academically talented students demonstrating financial need who are interested in careers in biotechnology. Eligible programs of study include biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental studies, mathematics, neuroscience, physics, and pre-engineering.

As a multifaceted, multidisciplinary field that uses living cells or their derivatives in products and applications including healthcare, agriculture and environmental remediation, the project’s focus on biotechnology will also mean workforce development opportunities for local companies seeking highly skilled employees.

The CLIMB program will have four components, Jensen explained.

The first is building a diverse applicant pool by targeting students from groups underrepresented in STEM and in biotech specifically.

Because students will be brought into the program together in groups as cohorts, CLIMB will also provide academic and social support systems, which will help retain them.

Third, scholars will be connected with a network of mentors, who will provide personal, academic, social, and vocational support — also critical for student retention and success in STEM. The program even offers guaranteed research opportunities with STEM faculty.

Finally, students will work with local industry partners to offer vocational guidance, knowledge, and experiences, helping prepare them for successful careers in biotechnology with paid internships.

“One goal is to help our students become accomplished professionals,” Jensen said.

Three Fargo companies have partnered with Concordia for the CLIMB program, each with an area of specialization within the biotech field.

  • Agathos Biologics is developing transformational science in biomanufacturing, biologic payload delivery, and cell and gene therapy. 
  • Aldevron is a premier manufacturing partner, producing high-quality plasmid DNA, mRNA, proteins, and other key components for the development of vaccines, gene and cell therapies, immunotherapies, and molecular diagnostics.
  • Genovac Antibody Discovery does contract research and manufacturing, specializing in antibody discovery and production of new drugs and diagnostics.

Representatives from all three companies, along with Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, came together to collaborate on the program, and GFMEDC will continue to work to connect other biotech companies with Concordia in the future.

Agathos logo

“These internships are invaluable, bridging the gap between academic knowledge and practical experience and preparing students for impactful careers in this rapidly growing field,” said Mark Voigt, director of business development and operations at Agathos Biologics. “As the bioscience sector takes center stage as a leading growth sector and regional priority, Agathos Biologics is committed to nurturing the next generation of ethical and innovative biotechnologists, helping build a brighter future for the industry and society.”

According to Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, bioscience is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the regional economy, and includes medical and testing labs, medical devices and equipment, pharmaceuticals and therapeutics, and research and development.

“CLIMB will allow us to take what we do best at Concordia — teaching and mentoring students — and team up with partners in the local biotechnology industry to prepare these students for careers in a field that offers tremendous opportunities both in our region and across the country,” Jensen said.

“The CLIMB program will create unique and valuable training opportunities for Concordia students — including hands-on experience in local biotechnology companies — putting them in a position to contribute to the growth of North Dakota biotechnology immediately after graduation,” said Pete Leland, vice president of production and characterization at Genovac Antibody Discovery. “As industry liaisons, we recognize the profound impact this program will have on shaping the future STEM workforce, fostering innovation, and strengthening the bonds within our community.”

The award comes through NSF’s Scholarships in STEM program. Concordia has a long history of working with S-STEM grants, beginning with a $580,000 grant in 2009 and then continuing with another grant for nearly $1 million in 2016. When the 2016 grant was complete, an anonymous donor gave a large gift to fund the program’s continuation, now called the STEM Discovery Program, which brings in eight students per year.

Aldevron logoWith the NSF grant, the CLIMB program will provide money and multiple forms of support and encouragement. It could also potentially lead to other events, such as a Biotech Fair designed to promote opportunities in the field to current and prospective students.

“Through this grant, we’ll be able to inspire, mentor, and provide internship opportunities for future Concordia graduates and fully support the program’s initiatives to foster and grow STEM careers,” said Michael Jablon, senior director of information systems for Aldevron. “We look forward to bringing down barriers, promoting diversity and inclusion, and empowering future generations.”

Interested students can learn more and apply at