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Educating the World in Modeling and Simulation: Creating Certara University

“Fundamentally, Certara is a collection of academic discoveries and scientific minds who are charged with transforming patient care and improving the most crucial research and development and regulatory decisions. Our training organization and methodology must be equally accountable for this mission.”

Edmundo Muniz

I heard these inspiring words from our CEO during my first strategy meeting at Certara. Before even thinking it over, I volunteered to lead the effort and committed myself and a team—which did not yet exist—to educating the world on the transformative impact of modeling and simulation.

And why not? I had significant experience in education. I’d worked with some of our country’s top minds. I’d witnessed firsthand building several learning platforms. And I shared the exciting vision of a new 21st century educational pedagogy.

Of course, I had done it from the finance function. And I was a CPA, not a scientist. But no matter! I had watched it done before by men and women that I deeply respected, and I had learned so much along the way. With the proper motivation, I was ready to take a giant leap of faith. All that was needed was to build a team, create a product, make it great, and educate the world in modeling and simulation… any questions?

Fortunately for me, I was going to have help. Our head of marketing, Ellen Leinfuss, had also spent time in the education space. It was originally her vision that Certara needed to educate the world. Ellen believed that only through education could we put ourselves in a position to influence innovation that would positively impact patient care. We envisioned expanding into new modalities and delivering global training to our students. We would create an online training program that would support users of our software products and create an environment where scientists could sharpen and expand their skills and practice modeling and simulation empirically. Our long term goal would be to create an online hub where scientists and students could find the edge they needed to break through on their next project and quicken the pace of innovation and discovery. It was a very worthy task, and I reminded myself of this frequently.

We hired our first three team members in about a month, but it felt like longer. Dr. Nathan Teuscher was already running his own consulting business, and he really enjoyed both the teaching and the modeling part of his business. He was eager to help create an online platform to expand our instruction beyond the traditional classroom. Nathan would be the anchor that we built the new team around.

Adebayo Olowoyeye was a PhD student, who was ready to come back into industry. He would be our next hire. “Bayo,” as even his mother calls him, seemed like the perfect mix of teacher/technologist. He was instrumental in building our new website. Jaime Fowler-Puerschner was hired to help run our existing training business of instructor-led courses delivered in classrooms throughout the world. She made running the administrative aspects of our program look easy, even when it wasn’t. We would need more players on this team to meet all of our aspirations. But we were off to a good start… we hoped.

We had an initial curriculum to build off of. But, we would need to significantly increase our course offerings and expand into more basic and more advanced courses to have an impact on a global scale. We had several top scientists on the training staff already including Dr. Daniel Weiner, a popular instructor and respected scientist with a long history of innovation at Certara and Dr. Serge Guzy, our expert on teaching population PK/PD analysis using our Phoenix NLME software. In addition, we had a capable team from across the company who contributed as educators in addition to maintaining other jobs including Dr. Bernd Wendt, Dr. Tom Jones, Chris Mehl and Simon Davis. We would borrow their time whenever we could, but we still needed so much help. Over the next few months, we engaged Tom Jones full time and recruited Ana Henry to help us build our curriculum and develop content for both on demand and instructor-led courses. We were creating content now… but it needed to be great.

We developed a peer-review process to allow experts in the company to see the curriculum and provide detailed feedback as to the quality of the instruction. Reviewers were encouraged to be critical and hold nothing back. The peer review process was imperative to ensure a high quality product for our customers. One that did not suffer from the “ostrich effect.” We had worked very hard on the courses, but were they any good? Many educational tools are simply not engaging. The product needed to be exceptional.

Our technology experience also needed to be great. The user interface needed to be intuitive so that students could find the content they were looking for and proceed from one course to the next with as few clicks as possible. While the user experience will always be evolving, we have tried to create a frictionless path to your courses and your educational goals. We still seek feedback from our peers and from our students to support continual improvements.

It is now over a year from the time we started this journey. We have accomplished so much in that time, and yet the task before us seems ever increasing. The work ahead that we have plotted and detailed will keep us busy well into next year, and still our ambitions are greater. As we get ready to launch Certara University, there are a lot of people we would like to thank. But even more than that, there are a lot of students we would like to teach. I hope your experience with us is great. We look forward to helping each one of you be accountable to your mission.

Check out our modeling and simulation education classes! Visit Certara University.

To learn about how we’ve improved Phoenix to make performing NCA and PK/PD modeling even easier, please watch this webinar by my colleague, Dr. Nathan Teuscher, on the latest enhancements to Phoenix.

About the author

By: Frank Garafalo

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