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From 'Happy Valley' to the Swiss Alps

Penn State professor spends overseas sabbatical with CSL Behring.

Dr. Ali Demirci leads a fermentation course for CSL Behring employees in Bern, Switzerland.
Dr. Ali Demirci of Penn State University leads a fermentation course of CSL Behring employees in Lengnau, Switzerland. The activity was part of the professor's European sabbatical experience with CSL Behring.

A good teacher is always learning. And for anyone preparing young minds to take knowledge and skills into the working world, staying on top of an industry’s evolving trends and practices is doubly important.

That’s why Dr. Ali Demirci, a professor of bioprocess engineering at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), traded central Pennsylvania’s rolling hills for the soaring Alps of Switzerland by spending his spring semester on sabbatical at CSL Behring’s leading-edge manufacturing sites in Bern and Lengnau, Switzerland, and Marburg, Germany.

At Penn State, Demirci runs the on-campus CSL Behring Fermentation Facility, a laboratory that opened last year, that’s stocked with some of the same equipment used at CSL Behring’s Bern and Marburg, Germany, manufacturing sites. By working side-by-side with CSL Behring’s experts, he has gained valuable insights to take home to his students at Penn State.

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“It’s mind-blowing,” Demirci said of his internship with CSL Behring. “Of course I'm learning a lot technically, scientifically, but at the same I cannot stop thinking how great an organization it is and how it works efficiently.”

That efficiency speaks to one of the professor’s biggest takeaways from his time in Europe. Dynamic, global biotechnology leaders like CSL Behring have a strong need for students with demonstrable project management skills, he said. Management training, he added, is something that can stand alongside the technical lessons that are typically at the core of programs at research universities like Penn State. Demirci wants to make sure his students are able to adapt to the needs of industry once they leave campus.

“It will be not only the technical content that I will be rethinking about my teaching and telling my colleagues, but industry needs are something we need to infuse in the minds of our students,” he said. “They need to get ready ahead of time so they are not shocked when they start their first job.”

Get an inside look at the CSL Behring Fermentation Facility on the Penn State campus.

The sabbatical is an outgrowth of CSL Behring’s partnership with Penn State to nurture the next generation of biotech professionals. The goal of the partnership is twofold: to establish a state-of-the-art Center of Excellence in Industrial Biotechnology at Penn State, which opened in 2018, and to develop a multidisciplinary biotech curriculum focused on courses, research and hands-on experience for students.

While Demirci came to Europe to learn as much as he can, he also gave back by sharing some of his expertise. The professor delivered a short course on fermentation that he developed at Penn State to CSL Behring employees at multiple sites.

That effort is another example of the mutually-beneficial partnership between Penn State and CSL, said Jose Maldanado, CSL Behring’s Head of Global CapEx & MRO Sourcing, who oversaw Demirci's experience at CSL.

“We are very excited with the knowledge brought by Professor Ali supporting CSL capability growth in fermentation across Marburg, Bern and Lengnau,” Maldanado added. “Enrollment in his training exceeded expectations by far. This is really a great example of CSL culture and drive for continuous development.”

Demirci was joined by his wife and teenage son during his sabbatical. As a native of Turkey who hadn’t spent much time in Europe, he summed up the visit as “a good cultural and learning experience for all of us.” His son even took up skiing as a hobby – a development that Demirci joked could become a problem.

“It will cost me more money when we get back,” he said. “Now he wants to go to ski slopes in Pennsylvania.”