The Bridges to Stem Cell Research (BSCR) program at California State University – Fullerton (CSUF) has provided academic and practical training in stem cell research to a diverse group of 89 students since its inception in 2010. Undergraduate students selected into the program (BSCR scholars) receive extensive training at CSUF for seven months prior to their year-long, full-time internship in a host stem cell research lab. This intensive 19-month program prepares these students for careers in research and healthcare.
The 7 BSCR Scholars completed the following courses from June to December, 2019: (1) Essential Techniques in Cell Biology, which teaches students the basics of working in a research lab including recombinant DNA technology, cell culture, Western blots, immunocytochemistry and reporter gene assays; (2) Stem Cell Biology lecture course, which focuses on fundamental concepts and current approaches in stem cell research; (3) Techniques in Stem Cell Biology lab, where students learn how to maintain stem cell cultures for over three months and use of microscopy, immunocytochemistry, and quantitative PCR to characterize stem cell cultures; (4) Medical Product Development and Regulatory Affairs, which discusses biomedical approaches and regulatory approvals required to bring innovation from bench to bedside and precautionary checks; (5) BSCR Professional Seminar, which guides scholars in preparing a detailed research proposal for their full-time, yearlong internship; and Independent Research Study where scholars carry out a mini-research project to learn how to plan, implement, analyze and troubleshoot cell and molecular biology experiments. The scholars also completed five workshops on curriculum vitae and resume preparation, interviewing for an internship, research and stem cell ethics, leadership in research projects, and time management. BSCR scholars also presented about advances in stem cell research to high school students and their community members, and participated in 40 hours of self-patient engagement activities. These activities over a 7-month period foster the transition of the selected participants from a “student” who attends lectures and completes coursework to a “scholar” that is an independent, focused and inspired researcher, who is capable of making scientific contributions in some of the best research labs in California.
The BSCR scholars conducted their twelve-month, full-time internship at Stanford University, University of California Irvine, and University of Southern California from January to December 2020. The BSCR Scholars conducted research on the potential use of human stem cells for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s Disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, pancreatic cancer, as well as neurodevelopment and cartilage disorders. In mid-March 2020, the pandemic disrupted many well-established processes. All of the CSUF BSCR internship mentors were able to keep the students engaged in research. Despite these hurdles, four of the interns were able to implement their planned research projects and were offered a paid research associate position in their internship labs. One of the interns was awarded a research scholarship, and one published their work in 2020.
Evaluation of our interns training over the last four years showed that 70% of the BSCR interns were gauged by their internship mentors to be “above” or “well above expectation” for their ability to carry out cell, molecular, and stem cell biology experiments, and run project-specific assays. When asked to gauge their BSCR intern’s ability to conduct tasks that scientists conduct routinely, the mentors rated that 90% of the CSUF BSCR interns meet their expectations.
Over the past 11 years (including the current cohort of interns), the CSUF BSCR program has trained 100 students. More than half of them were Pell Grant recipients (a measure of low household income) and 40% were first-generation to a college degree. Of the 84 BSCR interns that have graduated, 40% were hired by their internship lab as research associates. Currently, a third of them are research associates in academia and biotech industry, 25% are pursuing medical doctor careers, 15% are in graduate school or are post-doctoral fellows, and 7% have specialized degrees or careers. Scientific productivity of the BSCR interns was also very high: 35/84 (42%) have published 82 articles with their internship mentors.