Like many teenagers, Marc’Shawn Williams ’00 thought he had his career picked out by the time he reached college. Given his knack for math and science, for Williams that meant one option.
“When I was younger, it was a goal of mine to be a doctor,” he says. “It all had to do with helping people.”
So how did Williams go from wanting to prescribe medications to overseeing the production of them?
As a transfer student to Holy Names University, where he also played basketball, Williams’ interests soon veered away from practicing medicine but remained science-focused. “I like to understand the why of things—why we do things a certain way,” Williams explains. “Science is the field where you learn that type of thing.”
“Have you ever thought of putting your hand on top of a table? There’s a reason you can’t put your hand through the table,” he explains. “An electron cannot attract to another electron. A table has electrons on it, and so does your hand. That’s the simple reason you can’t walk through a wall.”
Learning the why behind how things work, from the principles of electromagnetism to developmental zoology lessons about how animals’ body functions work, fascinated Williams and kept him motivated as an HNU student. But he’s quick to credit faculty for helping him achieve his academic goals.
He says Biology Professor Julia Smith’s coursework emphasis on writing taught him to express himself through the written word. His advisor, Sister JoAnne Quinlivan ’60, was “instrumental” in keeping him focused on schoolwork, as needed.
Following graduation from HNU with a degree in biology, Williams signed on with a temporary staffing agency that placed him in a three-month position as a laboratory assistant. He worked hard, learned all he could, and quickly set his sights higher.
When the temp assignment ended, he immediately sent his resume to the biggest and best biotechnology firm he knew of: Genentech, one of the oldest and most successful makers of cancer drugs. Williams got hired as a manufacturing technician and has been happily contributing to the company’s production and quality control process since. Today, he works as a manager supporting the commercial manufacturing department.
“We all use medicine for something, but do you ever wonder how you get it in your hand?” he asks. That’s where his team comes in. “We sterile fill the product into the vial. It’s all done in a clean room environment.”
The steps involved include: receiving a protein base from another department, configuring the desired formula and diluting it to the appropriate concentration, putting the drug through a sterile filtration process, placing it in a vial of the proper size (generally 100 mg or 500 mg), and conveying it up the manufacturing line, where it gets capped.
“It’s pretty interesting to see,” Williams says. “I like this industry. This industry is always evolving. Just like technology changes, and you see it growing from year to year, month to month.”
And if anything goes awry in the meticulous, step-by-step process, it’s Williams’ job to investigate the cause and devise a solution.
While it may not be the industry his young self pictured working in, it has satisfied a key desire.
“Since I didn’t want to be a doctor, I went down the road of science,” Williams says. “I feel like I’m still fulfilling that dream. I’m helping make medication that’s helping folks.”