In this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up Podcast, we welcome alumna, Natasha Wedderburn '17 & '20, MPS Biotechnology & MPS Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership, to chat about weaving an entrepreneurial spirit into science when it comes to the pursuit of a new venture in community gardening and composting.
Learn more about Natasha's experiences here:
About UMBC's Biotech Graduate Program:
UMBC’s Biotechnology master’s degree is designed to provide students with the skills sought by the biotechnology industry. The curriculum offers advanced instruction in the life sciences, along with coursework in regulatory affairs, leadership, management, commercialization and legal issues inherent to a life science-oriented business.
About UMBC's Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership Graduate Program:
UMBC’s graduate program in Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership empowers professionals to drive organizational change. Whether you are working within an existing business or want to start your own, our program will teach you the real-world skills needed to thrive. Led by seasoned entrepreneurs, our program will teach you how to bring an entrepreneurial mindset, innovative practices, and thoughtful leadership to your organization.
With three pathways in Entrepreneurship, Intrapreneurship, and Socialpreneurship, you can tailor your education to your interests and career goals.
Dennise Cardona 0:00
Welcome to the UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona. I am the host and I am here with a very special guest and alumni of two of our division of professional programs. And that is biotechnology and also the entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership graduate program. Natasha Wedderburn, welcome to the podcast. It's so nice to have you here. I'm so good to be here. Thank you. So I have a few questions that want to ask you about your experiences. But I have to tell you, so I read a recent article by Coppin State University. And the first line opened up saying, Natasha, what a burn has lived a life reminiscent of a mainstream novel. Can you fill us in a little bit on that?
Natasha Wedderburn 0:47
Um, yes. So my, my life has been interesting to say the least when I was born, so I was born. And the University of Maryland hospital downtown, my mom was, of course addicted to drugs, I was abandoned in a hospital, spend some time in foster care, my grandmother found me. And then from that, you know, the story starts unfolding, my grandmother from Antigua, she took care of my older sister as well, she had three children. And so you know, she worked a lot. And so she always said, education is that thing that's important. And I think from there, it just kind of took a life of its own.
Dennise Cardona 1:27
It sounds like a challenging path, of course. But sometimes after those challenges, you grow from those because you just become stronger and more resilient in the world. And, well, the world can be a tough place as you now and we all know. So that's a very, very inspiring story. And you've just turned to Amazing, amazing success story. And I really want to get to that. So you graduated from two of our NPS programs, biotechnology, and the entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership program? Yep, I want to ask you about both of them, because I have a feeling that two of them probably are intertwined together for you, assuming that you've sort of connected the two dots together with them. So my first question to you is, can you talk about what the catalyst at the tipping point was for you enrolling in I'm imagining it was a biotechnology program first, and then after that, we'll talk about the the EIL program, what was the catalyst or tipping point in applying.
Natasha Wedderburn 2:27
So I think for the biotechnology program, when I graduated from Coppin, I initially wanted to be a pharmaceutical salesman. I don't know why. But that's what I initially wanted to do. And I thought that the biotechnology program looking at the type of courses I would be taking, it felt like a good fit, very challenging to say the least. But a lot of the courses that I said Dr. Brodel was absolutely amazing. It really taught me about, you know, bio processing, I did a class that was like drugs to market and just understanding how applications are processed. And just all of these things that really kind of landed me. And so my first internship opportunity at cssi Life Sciences, where I did kind of two roles, but I kind of work this work on the marketing side of helping them to prepare proposals to win contracts for clinical trials. And then I also kind of worked on the life sciences side, meeting with clients and trying to understand like what product they were trying to develop,
Unknown Speaker 3:33
that was kind of cool.
Dennise Cardona 3:35
I can imagine so it sounds like it. Now let's talk about in terms of what made you apply to the EIL program.
Natasha Wedderburn 3:43
So after the biotech degree, I decided to try my hand and teaching. I've always had a passion and an interest for urban agriculture and just farming and gardening, just in general, mainly because that's something that we did growing up. I wasn't aware that you know, we lived in a food desert back then I didn't know what that was. I wasn't aware that basically, my grandmother grew vegetables and herbs as a way to supplement like what we couldn't afford. Didn't know that back then. Right. But it was something that I just absolutely enjoyed doing. And I felt like, you know, why can't I bring that joy to children. And just as a means to kind of, you know, if you look in Baltimore City is not a lot of grocery stores, you have what is defined as like food deserts of not having a grocery store within a quarter mile radius of where you live. And they also have a term called food swamps. And that's basically having four more corner stores within a quarter mile radius of where you live. And it's just like, you know, fresh food isn't accessible. But if you could teach people that they could take some of their food scraps, you can compost that and then use that to grow nutritious food. I think that's really empowering because you can't just put a grocery store on every corner. But I think garden and that gives you a certain type of improvement. I decided to apply to the program. Um, I texted him. And I said, Hey, I'm thinking all during the program, he's like, Well, you know, it's the spring semester, I can grant you a mission, but it's going to be tough to get caught up. And I'm like, I think I could do it. So I've managed to graduate in three semesters, and maintain a 4.0 the whole way through, which was like the first in my academic career, insane.
Dennise Cardona 5:39
That is really amazing. You did it in three semesters?
Natasha Wedderburn 5:42
I did, I don't know how. But it was just like, the classes are so interesting. All the professors that I came in contact with whether it was gib, or Jeremy Steinberg, or Jason Pappas, they have so much real world experience that it just makes you want to keep taking the classes. And it doesn't matter if you take three or four, because it's just like, they bring that real experience, they tell you all to get something done. And then when things have like literally crashed and burned, they share those experiences too. So you get so much stuff, and so much, it's just it just draws you in and want to keep taking the classes.
Dennise Cardona 6:18
And it's really important right to get the both sides of that the successes, yeah, the wins and the losses, because let's face it, life is full of wins and losses, ups and downs ebbs and flows, however you want to say it, and being able to address when things don't necessarily go our way. It's just as important as addressing when things do and learning from the experiences of people who have lived and breathed rolled up their sleeves, put themselves in the trenches, so to speak of, of digging into entrepreneurship adventures, then you're learning from them. And it's it's always a great thing when you can have a role model like that and learn from them. We're talking about gardening and the food deserts in Baltimore City. And for people who don't understand what a food desert is. Can you explain that a little bit? That term?
Natasha Wedderburn 7:07
Yeah, so the term food desert is just a term that is used to describe an area where there's lack of fresh produce. So anywhere you go across the city, doesn't really matter what area, you'll notice that you might have one grocery store, and then you have a ton of liquor stores, corner stores, fast food places, but not really things that can provide healthy quality, nutritious food. And so that that's kind of pretty much describes that whole term of food.
Dennise Cardona 7:41
And it sounds like that is a passion point for you. I'd have read a little bit about the Coppin State experiences that you have. Can you talk a little bit about what you're doing with that particular the food part and the in the compost and the gardening and helping communities who are dealing with food deserts?
Natasha Wedderburn 7:58
Yes, so that their project, it actually is just started as an idea, adult, when I took the entrepreneurial mindset class and you know, Gib said, what are you passionate about, like well gardening, you know, urban agriculture and food deserts. And as I went through a program, like, let this thing that I'm passionate about being my capstone project, so I literally had to start like putting pieces together and like really diving into the network around Baltimore. So I was able to connect with the number of urban farms, you have the Baltimore farmer Alliance, I was able to connect with the bottom of Office of Sustainability, the National Resource Defense Council, just all these moving pieces of people that were already doing the work, just in doing interviews and things like that. We figured out that a lot of these different institutions and organizations kind of work in silos. And we just basically thought, Well, what if the university could kind of be like a connecting point for all of these people, and like, get them together, so we can kind of all gel things together, and connect that research piece that we saw that was missing. And so the content model project is really centered around gathering all of these resources, whether it be from the urban farms or bottom offices, sustainability, given the farms and support, we have urban gardening on campus, and COVID happened. So it's slowed the progress down but we've got a $10,000 grant, and we were able to purchase like compost bins, and you know, all the materials that we needed to like build the infrastructure of the garden, to help teach community composting and build that relationship with the surrounding community. Something that we're working on now. We were able to partner with different farms and we did a environmental literacy then we were able to take them on a tour. Show them you know about the different foods what we broke match How to compost first really just using that education and that that connection. So you know, competence, the HBCU people trust HBCUs. And so just helping those organizations to funnel that information through to the community that needs it the most.
Dennise Cardona 10:18
That sounds like such purposeful work. And it's been fine. Yeah, I tried my hand at composting deck composting, I bought a composter, and I did it for a few years. But then I ran, I live in a small townhome community. And so my garden is only so big, and I didn't know what else to do with my composting, I have a garden. And I pretty much filled that to the rim. So now my county, I live in Howard County, here in Maryland, and we have a composting, I guess service where they call it feed the green bin. So I put my compost stuff in a little green bin, and every Friday, they magically take it away. But I feel good that I'm actually you know, at least helping with composting, and hopefully that helps with community with communities who need it. Now, in terms of your biotechnology degree, do you feel like that has helped you with this cause at all, like, Does any of that sort of help with this? Or is the biotechnology part primarily focused on what you're doing with education, if you can talk a little bit about that.
Natasha Wedderburn 11:23
So in some weird way, I feel like my undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry and then a biotech in my entrepreneurship kinda almost kind of read through everything and tied everything together. My foundational knowledge, and biology slash chemistry helps me to understand the science behind gardening, composting, soil composition, all of these things, right. So I have the the the science part. And then I feel like, you know, the biotech really helped me in understanding just how processes work. And so, you know, part of the research component is okay, how can we take this compost and turn it into something usable, besides just compost, and so just that that helps with that. And then connecting that biotech to the entrepreneurship, just understanding how we can take compost and turn it into useful products to sell to market eventually, we want to get there that connects that and then you need that entrepreneurship piece to understand who is your market? How are you going to, you know, get this product out there? How are you going to get interest? How What are you going to sell it for, you know, all that kind of feeds into my teaching as well. So teaching middle school science, and just being that role model for them?
Dennise Cardona 12:44
Well, I'm sure that the kids must get like a lot of just wonderful feedback in terms of your passion for all of these subjects. You know, kids need that they need to hear that from a role model and a community to hear like, what they can do with their life, what they can do, why are they Why are they studying biotechnology? I mean biology, so to speak, in a classroom? Well, because you can do this, you can help your community out you can. There's so many amazing pathways that you've taken with your education and with your life, that that's a role model for the kids. And you must be really proud of that. You should be proud of that. Now, let me ask you, when you were considering applying to the EIL program, what were your expectations out of it? What did you want to gain from that?
Unknown Speaker 13:31
Honestly, it was just one of those things that it sounded like the right fit. Taking the first class, I think I took one class at first just to see. And just basically, I just wanted to be a sponge, and just soak up any information that I could and see how I can apply it to, you know, any goals and aspirations that I had outside of the program.
Dennise Cardona 13:53
I love that be a sponge, because that is the best attitude to go into anything with that curiosity mindset, right? Where just teach me and let me absorb what you have to teach me. And then I can go apply it in the world. And with your fellow classmates in the EIL program, what were they like? Was there a spirit of collaboration with a working professionals bringing their experience to the classroom? What was your take on that?
Natasha Wedderburn 14:22
Man, um, they're just amazing people. So some of the classes had a mix of undergraduate degrees and you're like, Oh, my God, what am I gonna learn from undergrad, but it's just, you know, just the different walks of life that enrolled in the program. They're all at different points. You have some undergrads, you have some older people that have been in their career field for 2025 years, and they're trying to figure out how to transform their company or be a change agent within a company. Then you might have somebody that, um, you know, just came from another country and they have these ideas that they Want to learn about and take back to their country or they want to stay here, and it's just so many different walks of life, and just being able to collaborate with them work side by side with them have conversations with them, it really opens your mind. And I think it gives you a bigger picture that things can happen way beyond just what you don't.
Dennise Cardona 15:24
That's pretty amazing. That's great. Because when you hear about when you when you think about how you view life, if you view it through you just your lens, that it's just a tunnel, it's a narrow tunnel, but when you can look at it through the lenses of other people and their experiences. And it really adds a whole bunch of different dimensions to the experience. And I've learned some of my greatest lessons from people who have just walked in talks life, you know, and, and have been, have done things that I'm interested in doing, or maybe things I never even thought about doing. And so it opens up your mind and really opens up the pathways to things that you may not have even thought of. Yeah. How about the faculty? What were the faculty like in the entrepreneurship program.
Natasha Wedderburn 16:08
So I would say the faculty members and staff, they're really encouraging, they show up every day is their true self. They don't feel like they come with a mask on a precise, they show up exactly who they are, they come ready to share their experience good, better and different. And they really provide good feedback. So I don't feel like I'm just taking the class just you know, you're here to get your paycheck. I'm here just to get an A, like, I feel like they're really invested. I can sense gib later my like, Oh my god, I just have this random question. And he's like, Okay, that's good. Let's, let's talk about it. Um, so they're just, they're really open. So I almost feel like I gained like a family, or you know, like a new best friend, because they're always there to give their feedback.
Dennise Cardona 16:55
It's so important to have that sense of community and to know that you can count on people who, again, have lived and breathed out and who have valuable input. Yeah, it's a really nice feeling. I also am in a, I'm in a graduate program at UBC, right now, the Learning and Performance Technology. And I feel the same way about the faculty, they're always there. If you have a question. You can text them, it's amazing to me, you can text them and you ask a question, and they respond right away. It's like they really care about the students. What advice would you give to someone going to college and working full time and having a busy schedule outside of the classroom? Was that something that you encountered in terms of trying to figure out that work life balance? Because I think a lot of graduate students, it's one of their biggest fears is, how am I going to do this and be working or you know, having family or facing a pet or, you know, just trying to deal with everyday life.
Natasha Wedderburn 17:51
So I've always worked full time, sometimes full times, and at least two jobs throughout all of my academic career is definitely a balancing act, I would just say, go at your own pace. And more importantly, pick something that you're passionate about. Because if you're passionate about that thing, even when you're tired, you're going to cut and carve out time to get those things done, and go at your own pace. Like it doesn't matter if you're 29 or 59, earning a graduate degree. It doesn't matter life isn't a race, just go at your own pace.
Dennise Cardona 18:27
What was your favorite course? And why in terms? Let's Let's go to the biotechnology First, if you can remember back that far, whatever favorite course? And what did you gain from it.
Natasha Wedderburn 18:38
So the biotechnology program, they had a lot of good courses, I think on one of my favorite courses, was a drug to market class. And I actually had to drive all the way to Shady Grove to take that class. And that was a drive it was about an hour and a half drive. But I took it once a week, the professor was absolutely awesome. And we really were able to go through how to bring a drug to market. So we had to go through that whole process of doing the whole application and what that plan will look like and typing it up and working in groups and figuring all these things out. And that was very valuable. Because I think anytime you get that real world experience, like here's the thing, you're going to go through this whole process, just so you have an understanding because it's better to do it than just to be told and not have that experience of actually going through the motions. So that was a good course.
Dennise Cardona 19:38
Totally agree about that doing doing the work not just sitting there. There's something to be said about soaking up the information but you have to apply it to I have to apply it anyway to be able to figure it out and get it into my muscle memory in order to be able to actually perform it in the real world. So I agree that's applied experience is so valuable. What about with the entrepreneurship program? Was there a favorite course? And why?
Natasha Wedderburn 20:06
All of them were my favorite. Like all of them gave you this a certain piece. But if I absolutely, oh, so hard. Well, I would say, for the biotech program, I dread to get anything that had to deal with finance. But when we were able to take entrepreneurial finance with Jason Pappas, I'm like, okay, it's not gonna be that bad. Um, it actually turned out to be very beneficial, we actually, were able to develop a pitch. And we went through pitch creator, which is like this program and the CEO came and talked to us about how to make a pitch deck. And it was just like real life learning experience. I always just shy person really don't like talking literally at the beginning of the program. I was like shaking, sweat, he's had to speak. But going through the motions of pitch creator and doing a pitch and having to do that pitch in front of people. very beneficial.
Dennise Cardona 21:03
I would imagine that builds that confidence level, I feel that way with public speaking, giving a speech in public or speaking, doing live videos and things like that takes that confidence level. And the more you can practice it, right, the better it is. Yeah. What was your big takeaway from studying at UMBC?
Natasha Wedderburn 21:22
I think my biggest takeaway would be just follow your dreams and your path. You know, when you start the entrepreneurship program, you have many different tracks, you learn a bet, there are many different facets entrepreneurship. So you have your intrapreneurship, you have your standard entrepreneurship, and you have your social entrepreneurship. And I didn't even know that at first. But being able to like take a class, learn about the different paths and just find a fit. My biggest takeaway would be just, you know, trust your instincts as you move through the program.
Dennise Cardona 21:58
That's really great advice. Absolutely. Great advice. Natasha is can you think of anything else that we haven't talked about that you feel would add value to this conversation, too, we believe that a prospective student might want to know about UMBC or about the programs.
Natasha Wedderburn 22:17
I felt like the programs are really designed, they understand I love that most classes are in the evening. So it really gives you that time to kind of decompress from your work schedule. They understand that you have kids, you have family, and they really weren't with you in any circumstances.
Dennise Cardona 22:33
Yeah, that's really important in graduate school, to have that flexibility to know that they have your back and they understand that there are other things outside of education that you're that you're dealing with. And so that's really powerful. Natasha, this has been really insightful. And I've really enjoyed listening to your story. It's very inspiring, and it makes me want to go out and do better in the world. You've really set a beautiful, beautiful example, and for your students and for the community. And I really, that's something to be proud of. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here today. No, not a problem. Thank you so much. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast. If you'd like to learn more about the entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership graduate program at eil.umbc.edu.