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 110 undergraduate students since its inception in 2010. Approximately 40% of these 110 interns were first-generation, and 50% were Pell Grant recipients. These students have completed full-time internships with one of 61 internship mentors at six institutions. Over 40% of these interns have published one or more peer-reviewed articles with their mentor, which is an amazing accomplishment for CSUF undergraduates. The internship mentors considered 75% of the interns to either “meet” or be “above expectations” when compared to first-year Ph.D. students at their institutions. More than 50 interns continued as full-time employees in their internship lab after graduating from CSUF. CSUF BSCR alumni work in academia or biotech as researchers (50%), medical field (25%), in graduate school (15%), or in other post-graduate degrees (10%).
The COVID-19 pandemic underlined the importance of science, education, and technological progress. Science and education are among the many components needed for the safety and well-being of our communities. Regenerative medicine approaches used by our internship mentors hold the promise to ameliorate or cure many ailments. CIRM’s Bridges program has provided these amazing opportunities to undergraduate students. Some of these students did not know much about stem cells a few years earlier and may not have considered research as a career path. These new research contributors will continue to inform their families and communities about science and promote scientific research.
The initial Bridges grant facilitated the development of advanced-level stem cell and biotechnology research courses, which also benefit other CSUF students. For the undergraduates selected into the program (BSCR interns), the BSCR curriculum trains them for future research careers in the booming field of regenerative medicine. The CSUF BSCR training program requires successful completion of five courses prior to starting their internship: Essential Techniques in Cell Biology lab (B329), Stem Cell Biology lecture (B427), Techniques in Stem Cell Biology lab (B429), Regulatory Affairs – Bench to Bedside (B425), BSCR Professional Seminar (B480C; research proposal and presentation preparation), and independent research courses (B499L). The continued support has allowed for further training through five workshops focused on Research and Stem Cell Ethics, Leadership in Research Projects, Soft Skills, Time Management, and Data Science. The interns also learn about a patient’s experiences through online discussions, curating a virtual library of patient experiences (finding videos, blogs, etc.), and writing self-reflections. Depending on the year, the interns have made general presentations at the local schools, CSUF events, or through social media.
The CSUF BSCR interns are guided into selecting their own internship mentors. This is an intimidating process for undergraduates, and the BSCR program facilitates progress in identifying their internship mentors through several mini-assignments with formative feedback. After the initial introduction by the program, all the communications with the internship lab are conducted by the intern. The CSUF BSCR mentors meet with the interns (as a group and individually) to provide guidance on how to approach the next steps of communication. The interns must prepare a thorough 10-page research proposal based on information they collect from their internship mentors and a literature review. Through these processes (i.e., courses, workshops, project discussions, guidance, and counseling as needed), the program is able to transform undergraduates that may not know much about stem cell research into successful, well-rounded, communicative interns.