California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) is the only public university in Ventura County, a region that is rapidly developing into a biotechnology hub. Currently, no research university serves this area. Since its inception in 2001, CSUCI has established one of the most successful professional science master’s degree programs in biotechnology and an innovative MS Biotechnology and MBA dual degree program within the CSU system with a robust enrollment of 100 plus students. The Stem Cell Technology and Lab Management (SCTLM) emphasis within the MS degree program was implemented in 2009 after receiving a 3-year Bridges award from CIRM. The purpose of this emphasis was to provide intensive training to students in the field of stem cell technology via engagement in cutting-edge stem cell courses and a mandatory 1-year internship at a CIRM approved facility. Currently we are completing our 5th year in this emphasis and have successfully graduated a total of 40 CIRM grant funded students since 2009. Our fifth cohort of students (2013-2014) will complete the internships in September, 2014 and we are in the process of placing our sixth cohort of students (2014-2015) at a variety of institutes to commence the internships in September, 2014.
Our training program requires students enrolled in the SCTLM emphasis to complete a set of four common core courses as well as six required courses focusing on molecular cell biology, bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics, stem cell culture techniques, cell culture facility management, regenerative medicine, project management, biotech law & regulation and an internship. These courses are being offered in various formats-in-classroom, online, seminar, full lecture/lab, an intensive 1-week training and 1-year internship and thus enable students to experience the full benefits of a diverse educational regimen. In addition, students are also required to complete 1-2 elective courses from a pool of 10 electives offered. The most valuable experience for the students is the 1-year internship whereby they acquire skills in stem cell techniques, work on an original independent research project, form collaborations with other scientists in the field, network with peers and project themselves as skilled researchers in stem cell technology. CSUCI has established agreements with a plethora of host institutions that conduct world-class research such as the Scripps Research Institute, the Beckman Center, UC Davis, UCSB, USC, UCR, UCSD, UCSC, Cedars-Sinai Center, the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Celavie Biosciences, Sanford Burnham Institute, Stanford and Western university. The CIRM Bridges award has provided us the opportunity to avail of these institutions as training sites which has proven to be an excellent platform for the students to fulfill the unmet need for highly qualified technical personnel in stem cell research technology. Interns have frequently been offered employment by these host institutions after finishing their internships and this reflects the confidence that researchers are placing in our interns.
Our CIRM Bridges training grant program received a renewal until 2015. Our fifth cohort (2013-2014) of students was admitted into the SCTLM emphasis in June 2013 and commenced the 1-year internship in early October, 2013. The internship will end in September, 2014 following which the interns will file their research thesis and present their work at our MS Biotechnology Colloquium in fall, 2014; these interns will also present their work at the CIRM Bridges meeting in July, 2014. Before being placed at their internship sites, interns were required to complete a 7-day intensive Stem Cell Training course offered at USC in August, 2013. Additionally, interns also completed more than 400 hours of coursework and learned about the research of stem cell experts through a seminar course that typically invites 10-12 researchers from CIRM funded institutions. Overall, the curriculum within this emphasis thus offers students a variety of options to expand their knowledge and lab skills in stem cell sciences.
The training program has directly made a key contribution to the stem cell efforts supported by the people of California as evidenced by our interns’ interest in pursuing future research in the stem cell areas either via seeking employment in the R & D sectors (70% of the interns since 2009 are currently employed) or via applying to a PhD program. Our interns have spoken at community events held on our campus and increased the transparency of the SCTLM emphasis and CIRM funded research. In addition to several undergraduate students expressing a deep interest in the stem cell fields, an enormous interest has also been shown by our international students, who intend to commit themselves to the California workforce. This training program made possible by the CIRM Bridges award has gained tremendous popularity at CSUCI and continues to garner wide interest.