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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University May 12, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 34
A Catalyst for DNA Alley Turns 20

Ed Roulhac, founding director of the Montgomery County Campus, speaks at the anniversary event.
Photo by Jay Vanrensselaer / HIPS

Presence of research university fueled growth of state's I-270 corridor

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

When the Montgomery County Campus opened in 1988, its lone building stood more or less solitarily, among rolling pastures and farm fields. The only major neighbor of the Rockville, Md., campus was the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, which had opened nine years earlier.

Today, those pastures and fields have been transformed into a burgeoning campus located in the heart of what is now known as DNA Alley, the 15-mile stretch of the I-270 corridor that houses some of the world's most cutting-edge genomic firms and research centers.

Johns Hopkins helped lead the way.

The university last Monday celebrated its first 20 years in Montgomery County and heralded its plans for the future, which include the further expansion of the current campus and the development of the nearby Belward Research Campus.

The anniversary event, held in the Gilchrest Hall Auditorium, featured talks by President William R. Brody; Isiah "Ike" Leggett, Montgomery County executive; Michael Knapp, president of the Montgomery County Council; Aris Melissaratos, JHU senior adviser for enterprise development; Edgar Roulhac, founding director of MCC and now vice provost for academic services; and Sarah Steinberg, associate dean of Advanced Academic Programs in the Krieger School. Elaine Amir, executive director for Johns Hopkins Montgomery County, served as master of ceremonies.

The celebration began with an unconventional performance by a local theater troupe called Imagination Stage, which demonstrated the promise of genetic medicine through a narrated musical/dance sketch. The performance was followed by 11 speakers who told the story of the campus's growth, development and future.

Jennie Forehand, Maryland state senator and one of the first speakers of the morning event, lauded the visionary partnership between the state, Montgomery County government and Johns Hopkins to make the campus a reality.

"I am happy to say that I was there at the beginning, working to get Johns Hopkins here. I knew they would be a coalescing force and a catalyst for bringing in businesses in the life sciences," Forehand said. "Johns Hopkins' continued presence here has let us keep this edge in DNA Alley."

The campus's history traces back to 1983 and a series of conferences sponsored by the Montgomery County Commission on Higher Education in Science and Technology, initiated by then county executive Charles W. Gilchrist. The commission, which included faculty and administrators from JHU, concluded that the presence of a major research university in Rockville would be critical for the area's future economic stability and development.

In 1984, Johns Hopkins conducted a feasibility study that surveyed roughly 800 scientists and engineers representing Montgomery County's technology and federal research communities. The survey revealed a high level of interest in graduate courses and noncredit programs in computer science, electrical engineering, public health and technical management.

Gilchrist and then university President Steven Muller, who also served on the Montgomery County Commission on Higher Education in Science and Technology, and who attended the event, later worked together to bring about an agreement whereby 36 acres of land, adequate public facilities (including needed easements and road expansion) and $9.2 million were given to JHU to start the campus. As part of the agreement, the university would offer graduate and noncredit programs that would help meet the needs of students and businesses in suburban Maryland's biotechnology and information technology corridor.

The university broke ground on the campus in 1986, and it officially opened as the JHU Montgomery County Center in fall 1988 with 892 students taking classes in its 49,000-square-foot building, modeled after the Kossiakoff Center at the Applied Physics Laboratory. In April 2006, this building was named Charles W. Gilchrist Hall to honor the county executive's role in the creation of the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, which includes the Montgomery County Campus.

During Roulhac's part of the "storytelling," he noted Muller's leadership in recognizing the importance of an early Johns Hopkins presence and involvement in a rapidly evolving and expanding Montgomery County and I-270 high-technology corridor.

A second 49,000-square-foot building opened in 2000. In summer 2004, the campus welcomed 115,000-square-foot Building III, which, in addition to providing much-needed classroom and research space for the growing campus, included space to be leased to non-JHU tenants — primarily science- and technology-related companies, agencies or organizations. Subsequently, the campus has opened the JHU Microscopy Center for live cell imaging.

MCC today serves 4,500 full- and part-time students in more than 60 degree and certificate programs from five university divisions: Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering and Public Health. Roughly 450 adjunct and full-time faculty teach there, and dozens of researchers work in its labs. The campus is also home to 10 stand-alone companies, research centers and nonprofit organizations, seven of them having joined the MCC community in just the past two years.

The campus currently contains 215,000 square feet of office, education and lab space. The plan is to expand it to more than 900,000 square feet of academic, research and corporate space during the next decade.

In addition to the Montgomery County Campus' 36 acres, the Johns Hopkins Belward Research Campus has 108 acres to be developed for research and education. JHU plans to build nearly 5 million square feet of research space on the site. The university has just begun the planning process for this piece of land, which is part of Vision 2030, a plan to create a 600-acre world-class science community in the Shady Grove area.

At the 20th anniversary event, President Brody talked about the campus's strategic position, located near such high-powered government agencies as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, NASA and others. He said that Johns Hopkins and its neighbors must continue to use the resources that surround them to effect great change and lead us to new discoveries.

"Johns Hopkins is committed to being the engineer of innovation and a champion of collaboration for applied science and medical research in this region," he said. "Today, we celebrate 20 years of growth. We also look to the future. We have the ability and the opportunity to make the best of what surrounds us, the largest collection of biomedical research assets in the world."

Michael Knapp, president of the Montgomery County Council, equated the research being conducted at the campus, and throughout Shady Grove, to the search for the illusive fountain of youth. Knapp challenged Johns Hopkins to help lead the way to the next frontier of human health that builds upon the work of the Human Genome Project.


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