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Making Sure the Lab Gets it Right

Rebecca Gibbs

Quality Assurance Officer, Norchem Labs

1975 BS in Microbiology

In a clean, highly organized laboratory in a nondescript building inside a Flagstaff strip mall, Becky Gibbs is helping to make sure that the criminal justice system functions the way it should. As Quality Assurance Officer for Norchem Labs, a forensic drug-testing firm that serves primarily criminal justice clients across the country, Gibbs has to be certain that the results Norchem delivers will stand up in court. To that end, she ensures that every piece of the testing process happens exactly the way it is supposed to. For Gibbs, though, the best part of her job comes from helping to grow Norchem's business while simultaneously managing the company's constant drive for continuous quality improvement.

"Since I've come on board, we've gone past the basic laboratory certification and have become nationally certified by the College of American Pathologists, Forensic Drug Testing specialty as well as individual licenses in Texas, California, Florida, and now New York," she says. "We're the only lab in Arizona that can do workplace drug testing for New York, for example. Because we use continuous quality improvement as part of our model, we do things differently than nearly every other lab. So it keeps us on our toes to have to explain to (onsite inspectors during the certification process) that we are absolutely observing the intent of whatever the requirement is even though our lab does it differently that everybody else."

Gibbs' part as an innovator in forensic drug testing began in the early 1970s as a student at Northern Arizona University. After graduating in 1975 with a degree in microbiology and a minor in chemistry, she became the first NAU student ever to earn a slot for a fiercely competitive medical technology internship at Tuscon Medical Center. Her fellow interns, who were mostly students from the University of Arizona, doubted her educational pedigree at first, Gibbs says. But it quickly became apparent that her time in Flagstaff had given her a leg up on the competition.

"When I first arrived for my internship, there were a lot of people who questioned my being there," says Gibbs. "After about two months, however, it became clear that my background was superior to theirs. I had had more classes, and had more hands-on experiences during my university labs. I had actually used equipment during my labs at NAU that (the other interns) didn't even see until that section of their rotation."

Gibbs is also a strong advocate of education for women. When she was a sophomore, she became engaged to Norchem founder Bill Gibbs: in an era where it was common for married women to drop out to support their husbands, she was adamant about finishing her degree. Now, after over 35 years of married life, her education has allowed her to play a key role in helping Norchem successfully expand the size and scope of what it does. And, in her current role, Gibbs has also played a key role in improving the education—and financial situations—of many NAU students.

"We have a really great training system (at Norchem) for entry level skills," says Gibbs. "We'll hire interns over the course of a semester, and it allows them to learn and get paid. They also earn 12 hours of credit at NAU as a forensic chemistry major. We have had several that have stayed and have become senior analysts, so I'm very proud about that."

Gibbs, who also serves on the Board of Directors for the Flagstaff Symphony, is excited about helping her company to increase its economic importance to the local economy. And, as she looks to the future, Gibbs says she is grateful for the educational foundation she received in Flagstaff.

"I had some fantastic classes, and all my classes were taught pretty much by professors," she says. "I had this really fabulous array of class choices that were really important in my field. It was a very good preparation."

Becky Gibbs and Norchem's Northern Arizona University connection

Becky Gibbs has played a key role in attracting and hiring Northern Arizona University alumni to work for Norchem. Current Norchem employees who are alumni include:

Cynthia Whiteman and Cody Rosania, BS in Forensic Chemistry; Jason Brooks, Amandyla Hoffman, Tonyel Carel, Stephen Butler and Jason Janosko, BS in Biology, Zoology or Microbiology; Holly Tiffany, BS in Biomedical Sciences; Scott Wightman, BS in Forestry; Michelle Mihlfeld, BS in Criminal Justice; Amanda Gibbs, BS/BA in Accounting; Joe Karlin and Bryan Stewart, BA in English; Tom Spaziani, BS in Computer Information Systems; Mariah Kinney, BA in Arts Management; and Thelma Lane, BS in Chemistry and Criminal Justice.