URI biotech student finds international experience the right path to career developing vaccines

Posted on
Warwick resident begins internship in Australia this month

PROVIDENCE – May 10, 2011 – International travel is nothing new to Anthony Dragich. The University of Rhode Island student was born in Germany, and grew up in Korea and in many cities around the United States. He traveled Europe at age 19 and spent time in Japan, Iraq and Korea while in the Air Force.

So it comes as no surprise that he will be spending the next six months in Australia as part of an internship through the URI Biotechnology Manufacturing Program.

“Even before I was offered this opportunity, I knew that I wanted to do something internationally,” he said. “I think it makes me more marketable and more competitive when it comes to grad school.”

A resident of Warwick, Dragich attended a vaccine conference in Providence last fall where he met an executive at Vaxine, an Australian biotechnology company that develops vaccines against infectious and chronic diseases. By the time the conference was over, Dragich was offered a six-month internship, which he begins this month.

The internship is the last step in the first year of the URI program some describe as “biotech bootcamp,” which requires a year of coursework in biology, chemistry, physiology, microbiology and laboratory sciences followed by a summer internship. Most students enter the workforce after the first year and complete their degree as part-time students, but Dragich enrolled in the program after already completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at URI.

“I saw the program as a post-baccalaureate program,” Dragich said. “I’ve been accepted to grad school at URI, and I hope the program and the internship will give me an edge on a Ph.D. program. I want to work in R&D, and this education will ultimately land me a job in gene-to-vaccine development.”

Dragich spent four years in the Air Force on an air crew life support team, which includes maintaining oxygen systems, rigging parachutes for fighter jets, teaching survival training to pilots and ensuring that inflatable slide rafts are operational. He remains in the reserves working on C5 Hercules jumbo jets.

He began his college education while deployed in Iraq by taking online courses affiliated with a university in Maryland, but he transferred to URI when he was discharged and moved to Rhode Island to be closer to his father.

Why did he decide to study biotechnology and vaccines?

“After being in the military, I was looking for a way to contribute to human sustainability, to give back by investing in science to help humanity, to do something to sustain life,” Dragich said. “It just seemed that this was the right way to accomplish that.”

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.