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Career Trek: Where real-world experiences and self-discovery converge

Fran Ligler '72 (second from left) is a faculty member at UNC-NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering. She is pictured with her post doc student (left), Dakota Howard and Trent Stubbs.

Research Triangle Park (RTP) in Durham, North Carolina is North America’s leading and largest high technology research and science park, occupying 7,000 acres and employing 39,000 full-time and 10,000 contract workers at 170 companies.

In November, 11 Furman students and representatives from the Malone Center for Career Engagement embarked on the center’s inaugural Career Trek to RTP. During the day-and-a-half trip, Furman students got an up-close look at the biotech/bioengineering and environmental resources industries, courtesy of enthusiastic Furman alumni who work in those fields.

Leading the cadre of students was Furman’s very own Fran Ligler ’72, who in early 2017 was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her groundbreaking work in optical biosensors.

Proud holder of 31 U.S. patents and a faculty member with the University of North Carolina-North Carolina State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, Ligler hosted Furman students who met with alums working at RTP, and with faculty at North Carolina State. A networking session and lunchtime panel discussion with RTP alumni was coordinated and moderated by team members at the Malone Center.

Students also toured labs where researchers are developing cancer therapies, conducting advanced stem cell research, and crafting next-generation medical devices among other technologies.

Furman students engage with faculty and alums working in Research Triangle Park.

Going far and above a walking tour, students were able to observe and engage with research teams. One group of researchers reported being on the cusp of a potential cancer treatment breakthrough, claiming 80 to 100 percent cure rates in lab mice, and the possibility of moving to clinical trials within 18 to 24 months.

That kind of impactful, personal engagement is what the Career Treks are all about. Says Lauren Payne, director of the Malone Center for Career Engagement, “The treks provide students great opportunities for self-discovery and to see the value of a Furman liberal arts education. They get a first-hand look at how they can apply their Furman education to gain admission to top-ranked graduate schools and land excellent jobs with leading employers across the country. Plus, the connections they make with Furman alumni and parents are invaluable.”

Also hosting students was Furman alumnus Tom Gower, chair of the Forestry and Environmental Resources graduate program at N.C. State. Gower hosted students interested in environmental-related careers and led lab tours and meetings with faculty and researchers.

The Malone Center’s efforts to expose students to real-world settings is part of The Furman Advantage, an overarching approach to education that promises every student a four-year personalized pathway, a team of advisors and mentors, and the opportunity for an engaged learning experience that is tracked and integrated with the student’s academic and professional goals.

But Furman students are not the only benefactors of the excursions. Says John Barker, Furman assistant vice president for career and professional development, “Graduate schools want Furman students.” Payne concurs, saying, “When Fran Ligler reached out to faculty in the biomedical engineering department at N.C. State, they all wanted to participate in the trek to meet with our students because they know Furman students are well prepared for graduate school and would make meaningful contributions to their program.”

While the Career Trek to RTP was more focused on students with plans for graduate studies, the Malone Center is arranging another trek to Atlanta where students will learn about career opportunities and connect with Furman alumni working at corporate giants Coca-Cola and Chick-fil-A. As part of the upcoming trek, students will also attend the Furman Alumni Business Breakfast, a valuable forum for networking with alumni and parents representing companies throughout the Atlanta region.

For more information, contact Lauren Payne at the Malone Center for Career Engagement,, 864-294-2106.

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