New teaching space for Clinical Laboratory Sciences helps put spotlight on program

When some Upstate Medical University alumni return to campus Oct. 16 for a Clinical Laboratory Sciences (CLS) reunion and open house, many will find the department’s lab and classroom spaces unrecognizable.

That’s because for the last year, CLS faculty and staff have been enjoying a fully renovated and expanded department that has significantly changed how the department teaches and has even improved teaching outcomes.

The department encompasses three degrees in the College of Health Professions: bachelor’s degree programs in medical technology and medical biotechnology and a master’s degree program in medical technology. Students learn how to conduct testing in hematology, microbiology, urinalysis, chemistry, molecular biology, immunology and blood banking. Graduates can apply these skills in a clinical setting (medical technology) or a research setting (medical biotechnology).

Their skills are critical and highly sought after in the medical field, said Susan Graham, MS, MT(ASCP), SHCM, chair of the CLS department. Up to 70 percent of all diagnoses are based on test results conducted by medical technologists like those trained in these programs, she said.

“We’re sort of the hidden profession. Most people don’t even know that we exist,” Graham said. “They just see those samples go behind a door and they don’t know what happens after that.”

But a lot happens after that. And now Upstate students learning the profession have ample room and top technology to hone their skills. The new space on the third floor of Weiskotten Hall is nearly double the size of the old one with two labs that each seat 30 people compared to the old lab that could only seat 20. The new space also has a dedicated microscope room (scopes used to be set up in a conference room); a prep and supply room with wide counters and large cabinets; new equipment including incubators, microscopes, projection equipment and other teaching technology; as well as additional safety equipment. The faculty now have larger offices and students have lockers.

In the old space, professors often had to scramble to set up the lab for class, bringing in supplies on a portable cart. Graham laughed as she recalled teaching classes with a small whiteboard on her lap. Now she and CLS’s six professors have 90-inch projection screens on multiple walls.

“This space has answered a lot of our prayers,” she said. “It’s also given us new energy as teachers. You’re not always playing ‘MacGyver,’ trying to put things together that aren’t intended for that purpose.”

Upstate Professor James Vossler, MS, MLSCM(ASCP)SMCM, said before the renovation he didn’t have room for two students in his office at the same time. Now, he said, students are more relaxed conducting experiments in the bigger spaces, they are finishing their work more efficiently and, in many cases, their grades are better.

“It’s like we’ve died and gone to heaven,” said Vossler, who has taught in the department for 24 years. “It’s wonderful. It’s comfortable. It’s a better environment. It’s a better teaching experience.”

The entire CLS department—faculty and staff—was involved in planning all aspects of the new space, Graham said. The expansion and renovation were planned with hopes to grow it beyond its current cohort of between 20 and 25 students. The labs and teaching spaces are equipped with teleconferencing equipment, which could bring lessons anywhere.

“This is all a pipe dream right now, it’s not even on paper, but we’d like to be able to expand to provide access to folks all over the state,” she said.

The reunion and open house are an ideal opportunity to show off the new space and share its potential with Upstate alumni.

“We’re so pleased to be able to sponsor this reunion to give back in a small way to the many loyal CLS program alumni who are so generous with their support,” said Mary Knepper, alumni director for the College of Health Professions. “Special thanks to 1982 alumnus Tony Kurec for his planning work on the event and congratulations to the CLS program on their beautiful new space.”

The CLS reunion and open house is planned for 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 in the lab, Room 3256 of Weiskotten Hall. The reunion includes tours of that new space as well as the new pathology lab on the fifth floor of the Cancer Center. RSVP by clicking here:

Questions? Contact the CLS Department at 315-464-4608 or email Tony Kurec at kureca@upstate edu.

Caption: Upstate Medical University students set up for a lab in one of the new Clinical Laboratory Sciences spaces. This lab can comfortably seat 30 students.

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