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 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 seven-month internship in a host stem cell research lab. This intensive 14-month program prepares these students for future laboratory careers. The BSCR program has greatly benefitted the BSCR Scholars, CSUF biology department and state of California.
Shortly after being accepted into the program, the seventh cohort of BSCR Scholars enrolled in the summer course – Essential Techniques in Cell Biology. This class teaches students the basics of working in a research lab including recombinant DNA technology, cell culture, Western blots and immunocytochemistry. During the summer, students also conduct research full-time in a CSUF faculty member’s lab. This was a first hands-on research experience for two of the nine BSCR Scholars during 2016-17. This independent research experience links the information that Scholars have learned in the classroom with its direct application in the laboratory. Through this process they also learn for the first time how to implement the planned experiments, the basics of working in a research lab, time management with lab responsibilities and other research-related skills. At the end of August, the Scholars presented their research projects and initial observations at the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics’ Summer Research Symposium. For the fall semester, BSCR Scholars enrolled in a select set of stem cell-related courses: Stem Cell Biology, Research Ethics, BSCR Professional Seminar, Independent Research and Techniques in Stem Cell Biology lab. These courses provided a jump-start for the students in the theoretical aspects of stem cell biology and hands-on techniques necessary to become effective stem cell researchers. Students are also empowered by learning essential laboratory techniques in the laboratory courses that they utilized in their internship research projects. According to the Scholars, the BSCR curriculum was very effective in preparing them for their internship, and that they were more confident in their research capabilities after their CSUF training. After developing a strong foundation in stem cell research and having planned their internship projects with the internship mentors during the Fall semester, the BSCR Scholars are ready to hit the ground running at their internship sites.
The BSCR Scholars conducted their seven-month, full time internship at a participating host institution lab from January to July, 2017. The CSUF BSCR Scholars gained the rare experience for a CSU student to be involved in full time research at Stanford University, University of California Irvine, and University of Southern California. The BSCR Scholars conducted research on the potential of stem cells for treatment of a vast array of conditions including: autism, bone malformation, cancer stem cells, primordial germ cell formation, and spinal cord injury.
The BSCR program fosters 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. Research mentors noted that some of the undergraduate BSCR Scholars were more advanced than other undergraduate members in their lab and were comparable to first-year Ph.D. students. Five of the scholars were offered a position in their internship labs.
Over the past seven years, the CSUF BSCR program has trained 54 undergraduates to become competent stem cell researchers. Approximately, 40% are working as research technicians, 30% are (or were) in medical school or a health-related professional program (e.g., DDS, PharmD), 5% are in Ph.D. programs, 5% are students at CSUF or are in a training program (post-baccalaureate), and 5% are assistants in healthcare fields.