The $3.5 million California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) funded stem cell biotechnology training program, at California State University Long Beach (CSULB), has three major goals. The first is educating the public about the medical, biological, and technological advances of stem cell research and recruiting new scientists into the workforce. The second is training the students in the theory and techniques of stem cell research. The third is retaining these trainees in the California workforce by providing specialized training and laboratory internships, which will lead to long-term career opportunities in stem cell research in California.
To educate non-scientists and to increase the number of informed California citizens in the theory and potential of stem cell research, a new course was developed at a local community college (Irvine Valley College) as a bridge to the CSULB program. At CSULB a stem cell/regenerative medicine module was added to the existing large, lower division, general education lecture course “Introduction to Human Diseases.” This may be the only life sciences course many students take in college and could initiate a life-long appreciation of the biological sciences, including stem cell technologies. Such an appreciation will have a significant impact on our society given the role of the voting population in the funding and promoting of advanced technologies.
To educate science students, two courses were developed, “Stem Cell Biology” and “Bioethics & Public Policy,” and have been integrated into the Biological Sciences curriculum. Any of the more than two thousand qualified students (meeting the course prerequisites) may enroll in these courses as part of their B.S., M.S, or Biotechnology Certificate program. The content from these courses should also be introduced to the general public as a number of the students enrolled in these classes were high school or junior high school science teachers.
Undergraduate, graduate, and post‐baccalaureate certificate students who excel in these courses, and demonstrate reliability and motivation, are encouraged to apply for the stem cell internship. Candidates are selected based on their performance in prerequisite courses, a resume, a personal statement, a letter of recommendation from their research advisor, and an interview. The California stem cell research workforce has been enhanced by the recruitment of up to ten students each year to enter this two-year stem cell training option, which was added to the existing Biotechnology Certificate Program. The first year is training at CSULB, and the second is CIRM-funded internships at stem cell host institutions. Once accepted, students meet regularly with a CSULB mentor‐advisor to ensure that the training they receive is consistent with their professional goals. The program has been full to capacity nearly every year since its inception in 2009 (seven cohorts). The students selected take a tissue culture/stem cell techniques course, which includes a week of intensive stem cell training at the University of Southern California (USC) or at Children’s Hospital Orange County (CHOC). The interns are “matched” with stem cell host laboratories at City of Hope (CoH) or University of California at Irvine (UCI) where they perform their ten‐month (two semester) full‐time internships. During their internships, the interns meet with mentors at CSULB who provide academic and professional support. The host PIs formally evaluate the students. This evaluation process includes completion of assessment forms and meetings with a CSULB internship mentor during site visits. At the beginning and end of the internship, the students evaluate their internship experience. Data from these evaluations are used to assess the students, to assess the program, and to identify areas for improvement.
Nearly one hundred percent of the students completing this program have been offered positions for further study or employment in the stem cell biotechnology workforce. Many of these students are currently employed in California as research technicians, others have continued their studies in M.S., Ph.D., or M.D. programs, and a few are teaching science. During the internship the students are involved in a variety of projects including exploring cures for brain cancer and leukemia, treating spinal cord injury, and basic research on stem cell biology. Their research as interns has contributed to many scientific publications and clinical trials. CSULB has a long history of successfully training large numbers of students for the California workforce and for graduate study. The CIRM-funded stem cell research biotechnology training program integrates well with the existing programs and dramatically augments the Biotechnology Certificate Program. Moreover, it generates highly technically trained individuals who will enhance future biomedical research in California.