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Congratulations Mary Ann Pfannenstiel

Growth Is Happening Each Day at Benchmark Biolabs

 Today our focus is on Mary Ann Pfannenstiel, vice president of laboratory services at Benchmark Biolabs, Inc. and that firm’s remarkable progress in Lincoln

Q:    Thank you for stepping into the Spotlight. Please tell us about your role at Benchmark Biolabs.

A:    I began working at Benchmark Biolabs within a month of its incorporation, which was 20 years ago. I have been responsible for laboratory services for internal projects, quality control and for services provided to clients for the past thirteen years. I am currently responsible for technical training and development.


Q:    Benchmark Biolabs has had an exciting year, with its merger and opening of a new manufacturing facility. What gets you excited about coming to work each day?

A:    Working at Benchmark Biolabs has always been exciting because of the diversity of projects that we work on. We have a wide range of clients, from large corporations to small start-up companies. We work with many types of viruses, bacteria and parasites, so there is always something new to learn. We have had the opportunity to work on the development and USDA licensure of several unique and novel products. In 20 years, there has never been a day where I have felt my work was tedious, and I always leave work wishing I could have accomplished more that day. Each day presents new challenges and the opportunity to overcome those challenges.


Q:    Our region is developing a strong ecosystem as a hotbed of vaccine development. Do you see our area as competitive with other regions?

A:    Our area is definitely competitive in vaccine development and manufacturing. One need only look at the number and competitiveness of large corporations and smaller businesses in the area. The quality of the workforce in our area has been an asset for all employers.


Q:    Your background includes academia, a large pharma corporation and then work in an emerging/growing biotechnology firm. What have you enjoyed about each stint?

A:    One of the most enjoyable factors in academia is the freedom to work on projects of your design and choosing. University schedules are flexible and the environment is often exciting with new students, new classes and new schedules each semester.

Working for a large-pharma corporation was interesting, because I was now applying the science I had learned in academia, and using a whole new set of operating parameters. Project management, timelines, budgets and numerous federal regulations were overlaid onto performing good science. Licensing a product under FDA for a large corporation requires a team effort, and the project has to be managed so that the numerous cogs of the machine work synchronously. There is a sense of pride when the studies are completed and approved by the FDA, and a product that offers benefits to the public is on the market.

 I did not know what to expect when I began to work for a start-up company, whether the company would succeed and survive, or what my role would be. Working in a small company, you know that what you do each day has an impact on the success of the project and also the company. It has been a pleasure to be involved in the growth and success of Benchmark, and also to work with and train new employees.

Q:    As you look at agriculture, there is great pressure on producers to reduce antibiotic use in food animals. Does this create opportunities for immunizing animals and thus reducing potential harm from antibiotic resistance in microbes?

A:    Whenever antibiotic use is limited either through government regulations or the emergence of resistant microbes, changes are needed in agricultural practices. This may include animal husbandry and diet, but vaccination is also a key component in reducing the effects of the disease.


Q:    As you look ahead at your company, you have merged with a very capable animal-health distribution company. Do you see this as growing more jobs in the Lincoln area?

A:    The plan is to increase the number of employees in Lincoln, and we have begun the process with recent hires.


Q:    As a training resource within Benchmark Biolabs, what advice do you have for our education leaders who are working to create our state’s 21st Century workforce for companies such as yours?

A:    New employees should be well trained in theory and techniques, so laboratory classes that offer hands-on training are necessary. This should include training on proper documentation, calculations and reporting of results. One of the most beneficial courses I had was a two-credit course on scientific writing. This course also discussed the ethics of reporting results. Ethics is often overlooked in curriculums, but it is necessary that employees understand and follow ethical practices in order to maintain the integrity of the scientific method.


Q:    As a woman leader in science, do you feel that we are doing enough to encourage girls and young women to pursue STEM careers?

A:    I am appreciative of the programs that are in place to encourage girls and young women to pursue STEM careers, because they certainly did not exist when I was a student, or even when my daughters were students. These programs can offer great benefits. I have seen the results of STEM programs when attending the KC Animal Health Corridor Annual Meeting where high-school students attend sessions. Many students expressing an interest in science are young women. We need to continue to emphasize STEM careers in school for both girls and boys, because scientific careers are not the easiest courses to pursue, and students need the encouragement for a difficult undertaking.

 Thank you Mary Ann. We wish you and Benchmark Biolabs well in the coming year.

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