Scholarship program helps fund recipient's path to a second career in the life sciences

Community college scholarship program encourages students of all ages to dream big and seek careers in the life sciences, even if they have no science background.

Posted Updated
David Arkin
This article was written for our sponsor, NCBiotech

After being out of school for 30 years, it was hard for Stephanie Alston to imagine going back into the classroom to start a new career.

It was even harder for her to fathom winning a scholarship that would alleviate the financial burdens in her educational journey.

But, despite the uncertainty, and the courage it takes to embark on a new career, Alston took a chance. It changed her life. After enrolling in the Clinical Trials Research Associate program at Durham Technical Community College, Alston became a recipient of the Samuel M. Taylor Scholarship in its inaugural year. The scholarship is named after the late Sam Taylor, founder and former president of the North Carolina Biosciences Organization (NCBIO).

In 2022, Alston was named a Taylor scholarship recipient for a second year. The scholarship program is for students studying agricultural biotechnology, biopharmaceutical technology, biotechnology, bioprocess technology, clinical research, facility maintenance technology, and medical laboratory technology at the state’s community colleges.

For Alston, who plans on graduating in 2024, discovering she could have a career in clinical research, even though she’s not a scientist, was a pleasant surprise.

"When drugs improve people's lives and cure diseases, that's a win" she said. "So I say, you know, there's a role for you even if you don't have a science background."

Alston has spent the majority of her career in customer-service roles, working at IBM and in the construction industry.

Alston has friends who have life sciences jobs, and their career paths always intrigued her. She actually initially enrolled in the Durham Tech program in 2012. However, with a young family, and attempting to juggle her time with night classes, she let that dream go.

"I gave up on that dream at that point. But with the pandemic, it made me reevaluate where I want it to be, professionally and financially" she said.

Nearly a decade later, in the midst of the pandemic, something shifted. She saw the incredible importance of vaccines and how science and clinical trials impact the community. She also recognized that her friends working in biotechnology had work security. Alston wondered if she could use her customer service skills background to contribute to the life sciences field. And this time, she followed through.

During class, Dr. Sharleen Traynor, her professor, mentioned the Taylor Scholarship and encouraged all students to apply.

Alston was quite surprised when she won the award and was able to apply the funding to expenses such as classes, books, and lab fees for the fall and spring semesters.

"It's an honor to be recognized as a recipient" Alston said.

Alston is studying to become a clinical trials research associate.

She’s now in a two-year program that started in 2021 and even though her background was not in STEM, she’s learning the material quickly. Her career was spent working with people, something Alston thinks will come in handy in clinical research.

"I can use my skills to work with patients, gathering information and enrolling them into trials" she said.

She’s looking forward to an internship that is a requirement of the program she’s in, where she’ll learn about clinical trials in a professional setting.

About the scholarship
Taylor served as the leader of NCBIO for more than 25 years. He was the driver behind the creation of the NCBioImpact training program, which provided development for those seeking a career in biopharma manufacturing.

Taylor died of pancreatic cancer in 2021 and, almost immediately, his community came together to create the Samuel M. Taylor Life Sciences Scholarship.

Businesses, organizations, and individuals donated to a fund in cooperation with the North Carolina Community Colleges Foundation, Inc. The fund helps students who are actively studying life sciences in an associate degree program.

Scholarships are distributed annually to students who participate in a full-time curriculum degree program of 12 hours or more per semester. Winners of the scholarship receive $3,000 per year ($1,500 per semester) to cover tuition, fees, and books.

Ken Lee, a former head of the U.S. Life Sciences Practice and co-head of International Life Sciences for Ernst & Young, knew Taylor well and has been integral to organizing the effort to raise more funds for the scholarship.

So far, they’ve raised $220,000, very close to their goal of $250,000, that will be used to create an endowed fund to provide at least four scholarships a year.

"We are investing in companies that need these employees. We saw the need, and saw this as a way to help companies in our community and pay back a little something to Sam, " Lee said.

In addition to Alston, four 2022 scholarship recipients were announced:

  • Gregory Ackerson of Winterville, studying biotechnology at Pitt Community College
  • Gage Lindley of Siler City, studying biotechnology at Central Carolina Community College
  • Keshia Sauls of Clayton, studying bioprocess technology at Johnston Community College
  • Ayonna Sawyer of Cofield, studying medical laboratory technology at College of the Albemarle
Students are encouraged to apply throughout the year and the program accepts applications through the middle of July. To learn more about the scholarship program, visit
This article was written for our sponsor, NCBiotech