This Bridges to Stem Cell Proposal will prepare community college students, particularly members of racial and ethnic minorities underrepresented in the health sciences, to obtain positions in the field of stem cell research by providing them with hands-on laboratory experience as well as academic instruction. A second purpose is to encourage students to pursue careers as stem cell scientists and thus, continue their education until they have obtained the required advanced degree. Selected students will serve an internship in a collaborating laboratory and will have the opportunity to work alongside scientists and technicians as they proceed through their experiments. Along with honing their laboratory skills, students will develop critical thinking skills and confidence in their ability to work in todayâ€™s world of biological science, which can be daunting when viewed from the outside. Students will earn a special certificate that will require that they complete advanced training in working with stem cells and participate in a course devoted to the scientific, ethical and legal aspects of stem cell research, along with their internship. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a myriad of seminars and workshops in stem cell research offered by the host laboratory. To encourage students to share their experiences with others, they will be invited as guest lecturers in a number of the biology and biotechnology classes offered by local colleges so that they can educate and inspire other students in this new and exciting field of biological research. Well-trained laboratory technicians are critical to the success of all research laboratories. This proposal will support training students to work in stem cell research laboratories and encourage them to pursue careers as stem cell scientists.
Developing and maintaining leadership in the field of stem cell research requires a critical mass of exceptional scientists, adequate resources, laboratories equipped with the latest specialized technology required for stem cell research, and a large pool of laboratory technicians trained in stem cell research techniques. Stem cell research requires specialized skills and knowledge that is not normally taught in biotechnology programs, especially in community colleges. The proposed Bridges to Stem Cell research will benefit the State of California by providing skilled technicians to work in the field of stem cell biology. Importantly, this proposal will encourage and prepare students from non-traditional and underrepresented backgrounds to participate in the science of stem cell biology and to consider completing degrees at four-year colleges as well as pursue advanced degrees in order to become stem cell researchers. The proposal will also ensure that students are well versed in the many legal, ethical, and social issues surrounding stem cell research so that Californians from all races and ethnic communities as well as from a wide range of socioeconomic groups will be able to participate in a meaningful way in the debate of how best to pursue stem cell research in California.
The objective of this proposal is to integrate a stem cell internship into an existing biotech certificate program offered by the applicant institution. Students will be eligible to apply to this program after completing one advanced biology course. The home institution plans to provide a 9-month internship to 6 to 7 students per year in partnership with one of 17 host laboratories in a public university and at a non-profit institution in the area. Prior to internship, selected students will be required to complete a stem cell methodology course offered at a public university. After completing the internship, students will be required to pass additional course work and participate in seminars and retreats at the internship institution to earn the specialty in stem cell biology credential.
The reviewers appreciated the premise of the proposal but were discouraged by the poorly described internship-training plan. The goal of integrating an internship into an existing biotech certificate program was appreciated, but reviewers were not convinced that the idea was sufficiently developed. For example, the proposal lacked details on the pool of the available potential trainees and how the students will be selected. The 9-month internship was considered to be of insufficient duration to complete a meaningful project. This concern was further deepened by the expectation that interns will be taking advanced biology classes during the internship. Layering a course on top of an intense research experience may compromise the quality of the training. The assessment program for participating students was considered to be strong and included midterm and final reports, analysis of student’s laboratory notebooks, summary of the seminars attended by the students and meetings with the faculty advisor and program director. Though this reporting system was strong, the program was criticized for the lack of details on the actual student mentoring.
The letter of institutional commitment from the host institution was considered by the reviewers as generic and lacking in specifics that could confirm the enthusiasm of the host organizations. No letter of support from the host institution offering the stem cell techniques course was included in the proposal.
The program director was considered to be adequately qualified and experienced to oversee the program. However, as noted above, reviewers were not clear about the institutional commitment to this program.
Overall, reviewers lacked confidence that the program as presented in the proposal could achieve the goals of the training program.