"I’ve always loved learning and did well in school, so I loved being back. Having been in dance, a discipline so connected to the body, made learning about anatomy and physiology especially fascinating.”
Elice McKinley is a bioprocess engineer working in gene therapy, but that’s not was she imagined as a young girl destined to become a professional ballerina. At age 14 she left home for intensive training and attended high school online, ultimately finding herself on stage with the renowned Miami City Ballet. She moved to Raleigh for an opportunity with Carolina Ballet, but after a long and successful dance career, started thinking about her next move.
“I started taking humanities classes online at Wake Tech when I was in my mid-20’s and thought about pursuing a career in nutrition,” Elice says. She soon realized she would need science and some developmental math to get up to speed, and decided to enroll as a full-time student.
“I was really nervous doing science and math that far removed from my high school years. But I had done all that I could online, and it was time to go full-time, on campus, with professors in front of me.”
Elice started classes at the Scott Northern Wake Campus and excelled: “It was amazing! I’ve always loved learning and did well in school, so I loved being back. Having been in dance, a discipline so connected to the body, made learning about anatomy and physiology especially fascinating.”
Elice says she owes a lot to her “incredible” Wake Tech professors. She feels particularly indebted to chemistry professor Ajit Dixit, who advised her to consider a career in bioprocessing. “He was great, but very tough,” she says. “He gave me the push I needed to pursue bioprocessing at NC State. He told me I’d be able to get a job in any industry – the FDA, food or pharma – and he was right!”
At NC State, Elice landed an internship at Novartis Gene Therapies, and she was hired upon graduation. She is now a bioprocess engineer with the goal of advancing into a leadership role. She says she takes great pride in knowing that the product of her work helps children who suffer from a rare neuromuscular disorder.
Elice credits Wake Tech with giving her the foundation to make a difference, and the guidance to make a connection to a new career: "It’s all related to the human body. Whether ballet or bioprocessing, I’ve always wanted to have an impact on people’s lives.”
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