Begun in 2006, City College of San Francisco’s Stem Cell Technology Certificate Program was one of the first-ever programs to specifically provide training in the field of stem cell biology. The goal of our program is to reach out to a diverse population of students and impart the knowledge, skills, and motivation for a rewarding career in stem cell research or related `fields (such as medical/clinical laboratories involved with stem cell therapies). One of the key components to a successful program such as this is the internship component which would not be possible without CIRM. Once a student completes our program, they have the opportunity to work full-time as an intern in a local host research laboratory.
Our Biotechnology/Stem Cell Certificate program can be completed in 2 semesters. The focus of the coursework is hands-on skills, and all the courses are taught in the laboratory. Students will become familiar with many of the techniques used in research. We bring in guest instructors, scientists from world-renowned research centers such as UCSF and the Gladstone Institutes who are working on cutting-edge projects, to ensure that the students are being taught about the most current and exciting work in the field. After students complete their coursework, they receive a certificate and are eligible to apply for an internship.
During this reporting period, our third cohort of 8 students (9th cohort historically) completed their scientific coursework and worked with Americans for Cures, a patient advocacy group, to relate the science they are doing in the lab to the real-life patients whose lives they are changing. The students also developed short presentations for local high school and middle school students to outreach and promote science careers. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, much of the outreach activities were limited to online, but the student experience was enriched through additional lectures and activities. At the end of the internship, students presented their research via Zoom at both a CCSF and a CIRM online scientific conference.
We are pleased to report that even with COVID-19 restrictions in place we were able to continue providing dynamic work-based learning experiences for our CIRM interns. The necessity of remote work and learning options forced us to be more creative and resourceful in how we run our program.
• We developed additional resources for our internship mentors: With working conditions in flux, mentors were often uncertain about how to proceed. We provided tools to help them assess what kind of internship was possible, communicate more effectively with their interns, and develop remote work plans.
• We developed additional resources for student interns to learn more on their own about techniques and scientific concepts related to their projects.
• We were able to connect more with a broader range of groups and individuals through virtual platforms such as Zoom. During this past year, while being physically distanced from each other and our students, we have learned to take full advantage of virtual meeting space.
• We conducted outreach to students using new virtual approaches. We met with prospective students over Zoom, held virtual Open Houses for prospective students so potential students could meet with faculty and alumni. These activities will continue past the pandemic.
• For recruiting, we began posting web pages for each CIRM interns with brief bios/ testimonials and photos along with information about their internships. Our student interns have also been creating videos related to how they became interested in science and what work they are currently doing in their internships. These videos are also being used for recruitment.
• Our end-of-semester BioSymposium was transformed into a virtual conference: Students prepared PowerPoint presentations of their science posters, honing their presentation skills for virtual conferences where they presented for small groups several times a session, sometimes recordings these presentations so that they can share them asynchronously.
In the past, our interns contributed to the basic research of stem cells. Currently, they have moved forward with translational projects, with their discoveries leading to the clinic and new possible therapies. Our interns acting as relatable ambassadors for stem cell research have helped people in the community understand the science a little better, learn more about exciting breakthroughs that are in the horizon, and give hope to many for a cure. Introducing students to the rewarding field of stem cell biology research will have a lasting impact. Most of our students who complete this program do end up pursuing careers related to this field. Training and motivating these students will lead to a brighter future for us all.