When Iris Arrington completed her Harrisburg University studies with a degree in biotechnology, she was ahead of the game in a field that was suddenly in high demand.
“When you think about going to college, people say, ‘Be a doctor or a veterinarian,’ but they don’t talk about the jobs in the market that you could actually get,” she says. “I was halfway through undergraduate studies when Biotechnology as a career path became popular. I came out before everybody else.”
The 2011 HU graduate is now a clinical site management associate, level II, with PRA Health Sciences, a large contract research organization, or CRO. She manages 45 sites where the company conducts clinical trials and tracks data for new and emerging pharmaceuticals, a crucial step in the approval and monitoring process between pharmaceutical companies and the FDA.
“Since 2011, my career just exploded, based on the degree I obtained at HU, which was a great foundation,” she says today.
After high school graduation, Iris decided to delay college, figuring she would have a family first and wouldn’t have to stop her studies and career later. She had been good at math and writing, while science was “that thing I could do, and it made me happy.” She was a mother with two young children and two jobs when she decided to return to school. She was accepted at Duquesne but chose HU because it was close to her Harrisburg-area home, and its biotechnology track intrigued her.
“When I saw HU and the biotech path, I thought it was really cool,” she says. “It ended up being a whole area of science that I didn’t even know I was interested in.”
HU was still new in 2006. “I really took a chance with the school, and the school really took a chance with me,” says Iris. “I was very, very lucky to get in.”
The education she got at HU and her contacts with professors were “amazing,” says Iris. She had professors’ cell phone numbers and could drop in any time.
“If you needed to meet up for coffee at a Starbucks and discuss something, you could do that,” she says. “You could stop them in the hallway. They were just so available.”
Iris admits that her HU profs spoiled her, and she compares all schools to HU, where everyone knew each other.
“Good luck trying to get notes from classmates in a bigger institution, because you don’t know them,” she says. “At HU, if you were struggling with something in class, the teacher would pull you aside and say, “Why don’t we work on this until you get it?’”
After graduation, Iris’ HU experience led directly to a job making chicken pox vaccines for Merck. A recruiter who had seen Iris’ resume online called during her senior year. The recruiter knew that HU taught the real-world skills needed in the laboratory. The job wasn’t available when Iris graduated, but in 2013, the position reopened, and Merck called again.
“The workplace expectations were pretty much in line with what I learned at HU,” she says. Iris went on to earn a master’s degree in clinical trials and research management from Thomas Edison State College. She’s now pursuing a Master of Jurisprudence degree at Widener University School of Law, studying regulatory compliance for U.S. and international pharmaceuticals”because it’s fun,” and because the pharmaceutical industry values people who can navigate both the clinical and legal landscapes.
“I’m one of those curious people,” says Iris. “Wouldn’t it be cool if? I Google and see where it fits into the industry I’m in. I want to retire comfortably. I want to figure out a way they can’t let me go. I want to be irreplaceable.”
For her, Iris says, HU was in the right place at the right time. Attending before HU’s downtown facility was built, she took classes is such spots as the Harrisburg train station. She loves the technology and gleaming spaces built into HU’s academic center, but she realizes that even when she attended, HU’s caliber of equipment actually exceeded the real worlds. The first time she worked with a centrifuge at Merck, she knew immediately how it worked, even though it was a much older model than the one she had learned on.
“I would love to come back to HU,” she says. “They have the coolest, state-of-the-art machines. In the real world the machines are less cool.”