Program Update: Summer Transitions

Summer brings change to university campuses as well as CSUPERB.  I returned from a week-long vacation in New Mexico to find a letter from Chancellor White making new CSUPERB Presidents’ Commission appointments. We are also wrapping up the annual election and appointment cycles on the Strategic Planning Council (SPC) and Faculty Consensus Group (FCG). As a result I have some program governance changes to report to the CSUPERB community!


Chancellor White appointed Karen Haynes, President at CSU San Marcos, as Chair of the CSUPERB Presidents’ Commission, to replace Rollin Richmond (Humboldt State) who is retiring.  We’ve already written here about the work that President Richmond has done for CSUPERB – we’re going to miss his leadership. President Haynes will be taking on an advocacy role for the CSU’s biotechnology students and faculty, as well as meeting with me every 4-6 weeks to make sure the program remains aligned with CSU system and CSUPERB strategy! Despite the added responsibility and workload, she says she’s “enthusiastically in” and looking forward to an “interesting, new assignment” – making for a smooth leadership transition.

Chancellor White also appointed Steve Relyea (Executive Vice Chancellor & Chief Financial Officer) and Les Wong (President, San Francisco State University) to the Presidents’ Commission. These appointments mean the Commission is at full-strength as we head into our next three-year strategic planning cycle.


Bori Mazzag, a mathematics professor from Humboldt State, was elected by the Faculty Consensus Group to the SPC for the first time.  Bori organized a series of “biomath” meetings and workshops at recent CSU Biotech Symposia; we welcome her quantitative energy on the SPC! Daryl Eggers (Chemistry, San Jose State University) and Katherine McReynolds (Chemistry, CSU Sacramento) were re-elected by the FCG.


During the spring, campus deans and presidents made appointments to the Faculty Consensus Group.  As FCG members become deans, retire or take new jobs, new faculty members take their place, bringing new perspectives and energy to CSUPERB’s “congress.”  This spring Laura Burrus (Biology, San Francisco State University), Tyler Evans (Biological Sciences, CSU East Bay), Deborah Fraser (Biological Sciences, CSU Long Beach), Ryan Luke (Kinesiology, CSU Monterey Bay), Kasuen Mauldin (Nutrition, Food Science & Packaging), Rahul Singh (Computer Science, San Francisco State University) and last -but never least - Roland Wolkowicz (Biology, San Diego State University) join the FCG for the first time.

These are the folks that keep CSUPERB relevant and responsive to our system-wide student and faculty community of learning, teaching and practice.  Together the Presidents Commission, the SPC and the FCG formulate CSUPERB’s programming and set priorities reflected in our requests for applications and proposals.  These are the strategic thinkers that ponder teaching, learning and research issues that transcend campuses so that we can offer the best biotechnology education and experiences to students across California.

A few of these brave newbies emailed me asking for links or papers that represent what CSUPERB is thinking about.  We share our strategic plan, relevant papers and reports on our website, and the LinkedIn group. But I know it is overwhelming paging through those archives and finding articles of interest. So I selected three commentaries that have motivated me or reflect our thinking this past year (I’ll bet regular CSUPERB blog readers can predict which articles I’m recommending!).  For your summer reading pleasure or provocation, join CSUPERB’s strategic leadership in pondering:

1) Alberts, Kirshner, Tilghman & Varmus (2014) Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws. PNAS, vol. 111, no. 16, pp. 5773–5777; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1404402111

2) Wieman (2014) Large-scale comparison of science teaching methods sends clear message. PNAS, vol. 111, no. 23, pp. 8319-8320; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1407304111

3) Lubynsky (2013) From Lab Bench to Innovation: Critical Challenges to Nascent Academic Entrepreneurs. Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; based on a University of Maryland University College Dissertation, December, 2012.

    A New Part of NSF’s Innovation Corps

    While it’s been quiet here on the CSUPERB blog, we’ve been travelling, consulting, building relationships and developing programming for a new NSF-supported Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Biological Site for the CSU!

    icorpsAll the leg-work led to today’s system-wide call for Teams and Applications for CSU I-Corps opportunities this fall.  Contact CSUPERB, find an FCG member or ask at your campus research office to get details about our first CSU I-Corps informational webinar at noon on Friday, June 20th (sent out as part of a system-wide email today).

    The last time CSUPERB formulated a strategic plan,* we decided to add an emphasis on entrepreneurship education.  Our simple aim is to teach CSU researchers about “what is needed to take a life sciences idea to a commercial product.”  In 2012 we organized the CSUPERB-I2P Early-stage Biotechnology Commercialization Challenge – an immersive entrepreneurship experience for CSU science, engineering and business students. Based on our experience with that program and the CSUPERB Entrepreneurial Joint Venture grant program, we submitted a grant proposal to NSF’s I-Corps Site program last May.

    Due to the government shut-down and other federal budget wrangling, NSF didn’t make I-Corps Site awards until this May - but we did win an award! As a result we now have NSF backing to expand and institutionalize our biological sciences entrepreneurship educational programming.

    The CSU I-Corps will:

    This I-Corps Award is significant for the CSU.  Recipients of CSU I-Corps microgrants will be eligible to apply for NSF’s I-Corp Team grants.  Until the Site awards were granted, only NSF PIs had access to this program.

    CSU I-Corps programming will help CSU researchers build teams and the skills to compete for follow-on funding from NSF, but also SBIR/STTRNCIIA E-Team and on-ramping opportunities at incubators and accelerators.  I should also note that NIH is embracing the I-Corps program** so soon there may be follow-on funding opportunities from that agency as well.

    Our status as an I-Corps Site also gives us access to cutting-edge curriculum and resources of the National Innovation Network (NIN) that NSF has created, in addition to the life science entrepreneurship curriculum we’re developing with San Diego State University’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center (Alex DeNoble, co-PI), Zahn Center (Cathy Pucher) and College of Sciences (Stanley Maloy, Dean & SPC member).  I attended the NIN meeting in April and brought home to the CSU many of the ideas and approaches I heard about there. The nationwide network of PIs continues to meet by videocon monthly – we have much to learn from each other about commercializing federally funded ideas!

    Recognizing the work needed to build a solid and responsive network of alumni and partners, we also wrote a proposal to the CSU’s STEM VISTA program.  We are fortunate that not one, but two, VISTA members will be joining the CSUPERB program office in July to help us with organizational capacity building, student outreach and matching mechanisms for teams and mentors!  We are really looking forward to working with the AmeriCorps VISTA organization – you can imagine the energy and can-do effectiveness “domestic” Peace Corp members will bring with them to CSU I-Corps!  We hope their enthusiasm and talents will engage students enrolled at urban and rural, biotech hub-based and far-flung campuses across California in biological sciences entrepreneurship. I learned at the NIN meeting that NCIIA has a similar cadre of NSF-funded Epicenter innovation fellows (watch the cool ~1 minute video here). In fact the Spring 2014 cohort of University Innovation Fellows includes a Cal Poly alum! We plan to share notes on effective outreach and student engagement with the Epicenter program as well going forward.

    After we submitted the I-Corps proposal in May 2013, Steve Blank and UCSF offered a LeanLaunch Pad course for life sciences (lessons learned can be found on his blog!)  Blank’s team discovered what we did running the I2P Challenge: it is critical for researchers to get out of the lab and off campus to talk with potential customers and industry experts about product development concepts, customer channels and regulatory affairs.  We partnered with an amazing array of campus innovation centers and biotechnology industry associations to organize meetings and workshops for curious academic researchers statewide – we have a partnership meeting in a couple of weeks to start scheduling!

    We all hope that these immersive experiences will set researchers up for future success – whether it’s licensing out a promising idea, finding additional financing, taking a job at a start-up company or deciding more research and development is needed to commercialize a biotechnology idea.  At minimum - students say the team-based entrepreneurship experiences are eye-opening and lead to valued, real-world skills.   I found out this week that Warren Smith and Manmeet Singh (Sac State’s 2014 I2P first place finishers) won an NSF I-Corps Team grant, suggesting CSUPERB’s biological sciences entrepreneurship pipeline is primed!

    CSUPERB gets glee in breaking down barriers between scientists, engineers and business folks.  We are grateful that NSF and AmeriCorps have provided fuel to continue our work for the next three years!


    *During the Fall 2014 CSUPERB will embark on new strategic planning discussions for 2015-2018.  If you have ideas, suggestions or quibbles – contact us or your FCG and SPC representatives!

    **I linked to the Science article about I-Corps above, but I do recommend reading it for background strategies and outcomes expected for this type of an entrepreneurship education program.  For more scholarly background, I also suggest Roman Lubynsky’s Kauffman Foundation article. From it you’ll get a very good sense of how long it really takes to commercialize research-based ideas as compared to technology-based ideas (and why many of us think researchers have perverse incentives – SBIR grants – to form bioscience companies too early)!  As I crafted the I-Corps proposal last spring, I collected these and other biotechnology entrepreneurship education resources at our site.

      Aligning Biotech Education with Entrepreneurial Workforce Needs

      As part of my industry liaison role for CSUPERB, I serve on biotechnology industry association boards at BayBio Institute and BIOCOM Institute so that I can make connections and align our programming with industry interests and priorities, especially around workforce needs. This is how I confirm that the #1 biotech workforce need is “hands-on practice and participation in multi-disciplinary, team-based research projects.”  This week Northeastern University publicized the findings from a nationwide CEO survey (not focused on biotech), including this recommendation:

      “An over­whelming majority of respon­dents (97 per­cent) say that expe­ri­en­tial education – the integra­tion of class­room study with pro­fes­sional experience - is crit­ical to an individual’s suc­cess. A large majority of busi­ness leaders (89 per­cent) also believe the nation’s higher edu­ca­tion system should expand oppor­tu­ni­ties for teaching entrepreneurship.”

      From a biotech perspective, hiring managers usually add that they’d like graduates to have an understanding of project management (budgets, timelines, deliverables) and the regulatory (FDA or EPA) environment. In fact, even Alberts and coauthors* write that “interdisciplinary MS degree programs that combine training in science with leadership, project management, teamwork, and communication skills match well with industry needs and should be expanded with federal support.”

      None of this is news. These findings echo what we heard three years ago when we wrote our last strategic plan (and how I operated as a hiring manager in biotech companies myself).  From both sides of what is sometimes called the “valley of death” for biotech innovation, universities and industry are working to bridge the gap(s) between academic research and biotechnology commercialization. Academic researchers are rarely exposed to the entire biotech product development lifecycle. Research-based start-up CEOs don’t always have experience raising money and formulating milestones needed to move a biotechnology towards commercialization. Much attention is given in the press to money thrown at the problem, but Steve Blank and others – like the CEOs Northeastern interviewed - advocate for more efficiency in the ecosystem and emphasize entrepreneurship education.

      Across the CSU, master’s / Professional Science Master’s / Science Master’s Programs, Centers of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and competitions, like the CSUPERB-I2P Challenge, offer experiential learning opportunities through internships and immersive entrepreneurship programming. Similar motivations led BayBio Institute to pilot and launch the BayBio Fellows and FAST programs, supporting new company formation and success.

      Helen Lam, Lily Chen, Peter Manzo & Joseph Oloo at the BayBio Fellow All-Star Team (FAST) Advisory Program wrap-up in December.

      Helen Lam, Lily Chen, Peter Manzo & Joseph Oloo at the BayBio Fellows All-Star Team (FAST) Advisory Program wrap-up in December.

      After seven years on this job working across this great state, I have come to accept it is impossible to keep up with all the wonderful things going on across the California State University. But imagine my delight to learn that San Francisco State University’s Professional Science Master’s program and BayBio Institute teamed up to support biotech companies participating in the BayBio Fellows All-Star Team (FAST) Advisory Program! I had no role in making the connection. Lily Chen (SFSU’s PSM program director) explains in the Spring 2014 issue of SFSU’s BioNews “BayBio [Institute’s] Executive Director Lori Lindburg and FAST [Sr. Program Advisor] Steve Karp approached me about involving PSM students in the program last September. I saw this as a great opportunity for the students to gain an understanding of some of the issues involved in early stage research and development and to meet high-level entrepreneurs, researchers, investors and business advisors with expertise in clinical development, regulatory affairs, relevant technical R&D, financing and business development. As project managers [PM's], students chaired weekly meetings and provided notes and minutes to their team members.” The photo above puts some faces to the PM concept – Ms. Lam, Mr. Manzo (both research interns at Genentech) and Mr. Oloo (research intern at UCSF) all volunteered to work with FAST companies during Fall 2013. Steve Karp explains, “Last year 3 of the 4 FAST companies were 2-3 person affairs, populated almost exclusively by scientists. One of the issues they face is having to take care of operations issues when they need to be concentrating on fundraising or lab work.” Further, Steve says, “I think the real value of the FAST program for the PM’s is that they have learned a great deal about how the business really works. They have sat in on hours of discussion about markets, reimbursement, regulatory, IP considerations, etc. I believe that they will all have a significant leg up as a result when they enter the industry. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure they enjoyed it.” The SFSU-BayBio partnership has been a boon to both young companies and students; Steve and Lily plan to keep placing student interns and project managers in emerging company environments.

      After talking and writing (now) for years about “closing the gap” between university and the life science industry – it’s a thrill to see such a creative example of a university-industry partnership. These are the kinds of win-win partnerships that happen “organically” without an assist from a biotechnology liaison!  Instead, CSUPERB’s role is to spark curiosity, offer up possibilities, highlight successful collaborations and catalyze new ones.  To that last point, I’ll be eagerly looking for those future federal training programs Alberts, Kirshner, Tilghman & Varmus recommend – I think the CSU’s universities are ready to respond if the NIH is interested in closing academic research-industry gaps!


      *In case you have pay-wall access problems, the complete citation is: Alberts, B., Kirschner, M.W., Tilghman, S. & Varmus, H. (2014) Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws. PNAS (Early Edition). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1404402111

        Spring Grant Announcements

        We’re almost done with this year’s grant-making here at CSUPERB.  We just announced recipients of the Presidents’ Commission Scholars awards, as well as our “Major” Grant programs.  The Travel Grants committee is still working on their reviews – but we’ll announce those grants well before the end of the fiscal year.

        These announcements usually mark our transition from grant-making to report-writing here in the program office; our annual report should come out in late July. It’s my favorite part of the year because we get to read Final Reports from the students and faculty members we’ve funded in previous years.  Even in these tough funding times, CSU faculty continue to win follow-on funding, broker partnerships and design curriculum to inspire and support teams of student researchers. Each year I pledge to myself to tell more of their stories and so the font size in the annual report gets smaller and smaller! Now that we’re down to 9-point font, I’m hoping public affairs staffers across the system might help out and will choose to feature some of the new awardees’ stories in campus publications, websites and blogs. The range and scope of science and engineering projects CSUPERB funds makes for fascinating reading!

        I also want to take the opportunity to give a shout-out to some of our Genomic Analysis and Technologies Committee (the GATC task-force, of course!) members.  Anya Goodman (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), Aparna Sreenivasan (CSU Monterey Bay) and Jim Youngblom (CSU Stanislaus) have worked with the Genomics Education Partnership (GEP) for the last handful of years. The national network of genomics educators, led by Sarah Elgin at Washington University, brings research experiences into the classroom and involves a virtual “army” of undergraduates in an ongoing fly genome annotation research program. In fact the GATC organized a workshop in July 2011 to develop curriculum modules for genomics education and invited Dr. Elgin to participate. The resulting modules were presented to CSU faculty at the 2012 CSU Biotech Symposium.  Last month the GEP network published a paper assessing the effectiveness of these course-based research experiences.  I won’t spoil the take-home messages because I think it’s good reading for all student-centered educators and administrators.*  It’s very good to see CSUPERB’s faculty researchers taking part in the ongoing national conversation about effective STEM education!


        *I’ll add that the March 2014 issue of CBE Life Sciences Education is chock-full of interesting articles for mentors, educators and researchers interested in assessing how effective they are using “high-impact” practices.

          2014 Symposium Reporting

          We’re publishing the 26th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium Report today.  We issue the report only after we’ve closed the financials, meaning everyone has turned in their travel reimbursement claims and we’ve settled them.  We carefully audit our participant and author lists and finalize registration numbers, removing duplicates and the inevitable no-shows.  We send the symposium report to the generous speakers, sponsors and supporters of the annual event to make sure they know how impactful their contributions were to the students and faculty who attend the event.

          I insist on keeping the report short and colorful.  I’ve reported already on what students learned at the symposium and the research partnerships represented.  I’m going to use today’s blog post to shed light on a few of the things that didn’t make it into the report or previous blog posts!

          New-Style Registrations

          This year we tried “day-pass” and “full-cost” registrations for the first time.  We only accepted 75% of the poster abstracts submitted for budget and space reasons.  So we had hundreds of disappointed symposium applicants again this year.  Poster acceptance means that student authors pay $50 registration fee for access to all sessions, all meals, lodging and are eligible for travel reimbursements up to $150.  The real cost of all this totals up to $525 per student.  You are starting to get an idea of how tightly our symposium expenses are linked to the number of participants attending!

          The CSUPERB FCG strongly believes the symposium should be accessible to all; each summer we debate how to make it so by stretching our dollars further. We know many FCG members line up campus-based, “cost-sharing” solutions to reimburse or avoid out-of-pocket student registration costs. 61% of students responding to the post-symposium survey reported they were reimbursed by their department or their mentor paid the $50 registration fee.

          This year we offered three-day passes for $85, covering access to all sessions and breakfasts, but no lunch, dinner, hotel room or travel reimbursement. Full-cost student registration was $375 and allowed access to all meals and included lodging, but no travel reimbursement.

          In the end, 19 students and faculty took us up on the day-pass option; 17 students paid for full-cost registrations.  From what we understand, the majority of students who used these registration options were seniors or master’s students nearing the completion of their degrees; they wanted access to the career and graduate student information sessions.  In some cases they were authors on posters being presented; in most cases grant or campus funds covered their costs.   We knew the main session rooms would hold over 650 participants, but we were at fire-marshall capacity at meals and in poster sessions at the Santa Clara Marriott.

          We’ll keep working to keep the symposium accessible, but the improving economy is putting increasing price pressure on us.  At the Spring SPC meeting and August FCG meeting, we’ll wrestle with our options for 2015.  We will return to the Santa Clara Marriott next year; we could not find a venue in southern California to accommodate us next January.

          Pre- and Post-Surveying: Student Aspirations

          This year we surveyed students before and after the symposium on a few questions.  We were curious about their career aspirations and their research experience.

          CSUPERB tracks career aspirations and “latest” status of the students we support on grants and scholarships, but we started surveying the symposium participants in 2012 about career aspirations.  Recall – both undergraduates and master’s students attend the symposium; 90% of them present research posters.  This year 70% of them reported working 10-30 hours per week on research projects; 38% said they worked in a research group 2-3 academic terms.

          In 2012 34% of students responding (n=243) said they planned to become researchers; 14% said they planned on attending medical/dental/veterinary school.  We’ve tightened up our surveying since then (results in chart below, click on figure to enlarge it), so we have a more precise break-down on students’ aspirations.  The question we asked was, “Immediately after I graduate or complete my CSU degree I think I want to (chose the best answer).” Roughly a third of the students responding still plan to enter doctoral research programs immediately after completion of their degrees.


          Roughly 14-30% plan to go to medical/dental/veterinary school.  This is our most “variable” category. We know from previous surveys that pre-med students are wary to let research mentors know they want to become physicians and clinicians, not researchers. (We know many of those physicians and clinicians also become researchers – but that’s a conversation for another day!). The surveys show about 14% plan to work a few years before returning to graduate school (the sequence I took as well!).  Here in the program office and within CSUPERB governance groups, we use this data to plan out the symposium programming. I’m sharing it with mentors system-wide to “lend language” they can use to explore their students’ true aspirations.

          Many Thanks

          We thank our sponsors many times during the symposium and in our publications.  The sponsorship dollars we raised this year didn’t quite keep us from going over budget (again).  But we were only $9,197 over budget this year.  It could have been worse without the help from sponsors and donors.

          The real thanks go to the CSUPERB program office staff and volunteers (James, Pam, Tyson, Thomas, Julie and Dayna) and the FCG volunteers that make this event happen. A worn-out subset of FCG volunteers is pictured below at the end of the symposium and ~10 hours before the all-day FCG meeting that Sunday! Starting in the early fall, FCG members serve as poster abstract reviewers, award selection committee members, session organizers, workshop designers, committee chairs and session moderators to get ready for the January event. Paula Fischhaber (CSU Northridge & SPC member) piloted a new organizational construct for us this year – she oversaw ALL of the symposium award committees.  We estimate she ran the longest distances during the symposium this year keeping committees and student finalists on point! Kathie McReynolds (CSU Sacramento, SPC member & FCG Deputy Chair) organized the Thursday workshop programming this year – she’s getting pretty darn good at it. According to the post-session and symposium surveys, it was a high-quality line-up.  Equally impactful – based on survey responses – was the bioengineering network reception that Daryl Eggers (San Jose State University & SPC member) organized at the symposium for the first time. As a result, bioengineering faculty and students attended the symposium in greater numbers than we’ve ever seen before.  Stanley Maloy (SPC member and Dean of Sciences at San Diego State University) also deserves a shout-out; he stepped in at the last-minute to replace a flu-flattened speaker and did a terrific job. It’s a privilege working with this community – it’s amazing what we make happen for faculty and students each year!


            Kicking Up Some STEM Education Dust

            The press release is out there now – so I’m happy to announce a new $4.64 million dollar grant award from the The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to the CSU. I mariachialways tell PIs to pause and celebrate when they win a grant. Our little proposal writing team celebrated with huge Chuao chocolate bars!

            A W.M. Keck Foundation grant to the AAC&U (Susan Elrod, PI, now Dean, College of Science and Mathematics at CSU Fresno and Adrianna Kezar, USC, co-PI) brought together a “CSU Chancellor’s Office” team to work as part of a “STEM Education Effectiveness Framework Project.” The CO team includes CSU folks with “system-wide” missions with both academic affairs and STEM student success perspectives: Judy Botelho (CO, CCE), Lisa Hammersley & the inspirational Juanita Barrena (CSU-LSAMP), Krista Kamer (COAST), Ken O’Donnell (CO, student success) and Wayne Tikkanen (ITL). That integrated mix of perspectives and programs might be the strategic, secret sauce for engaging and retaining all our STEM-interested students!  It certainly led to a burst of strategic debates (ahem, discussions) and a search for additional resources for campus teams interested in making the introductory STEM curriculum more engaging and high-impact practices more pervasive.  Our discussions drew in Sue DeRosa, Gerry Hanley (MERLOT), Jeff Gold and Jim Till to also carry proposal-writing water last year. These discussions, along with others at last summer’s Strategic Planning Council meeting and at the Vision & Change meeting in D.C., led to this year’s CSUPERB Curriculum Development RFP (proposals now under review). They also led to CCE’s CSU STEM VISTA grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

            We wanted to do more, of course.  Carl Weiman famously said departments need to set aside 5% of their annual budgets for five years to transform the curriculum. We are grateful the Helmsley Trust decided to invest in the CSU so that campuses can do more.

            See how strategic initiatives get funded in these resource-constrained times? No – I can assure you – it’s not chocolate-dependent.  It takes layers upon layers of private-public support and collaborative, coordinated, patient leadership. I thank the entire Collaborative STEM Education team for the work and thought they’ve put into this initiative. Now we need to kick up some dust (making music might be a better metaphor afterall, Ken!) and get going! We’ll issue a Request for Proposals this summer.


              2014 CSUPERB Leadership Award

              Last Thursday CSUPERB presented its inaugural Leadership Award to Rollin Richmond, President of Humboldt State and Chair of the CSUPERB President’s Commission.

              The CSUPERB Faculty Consensus Group (FCG) voted twice on this award.  First – at the January FCG meeting – they voted to establish the award to “honor any individual whose work has contributed in extraordinary ways to the advancement of CSUPERB or the field of biotechnology.”  Second – in February – they voted to honor President Richmond with the inaugural award.

              Mike Goldman (Chair of Biology at San Francisco State University and Chair, CSUPERB FCG) and I travelled up to Arcata to present the award to President Richmond.  We were successful in elbowing our way onto the agenda of a retirement reception the campus and community organized to honor President Richmond.  The citation etched on the glass block we gave him said, “in recognition of his leadership and advocacy for stem cell research training grants and undergraduate research opportunities.”


              Knowing we were followed on the agenda by the mayor of Arcata and other more familiar campus dignitaries (including the impressive Marching Lumberjacks), we kept our remarks very short: “President Richmond’s advocacy led to over $42 million in stem cell research training grants to the CSU from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) – funding over 600 student researchers from 14 different CSU universities since 2009.  Since 2012 the CSUPERB Presidents’ Commission Scholars program has supported 40 undergraduate biotechnology researchers. These programs are the direct legacy of President Richmond’s leadership and advocacy.”

              Of course I have more to say about President Richmond.  Rollin is a card-carrying geneticist.  I think he likes working with CSUPERB (and why I like working with him) because the next best thing to doing science is investing in and supporting up-and-coming scientists and ventures.

              He was the chair of the search committee that hired me into this job; so I’ve known him ever since my return to academia as part of the CSU.  I remember President Steve Weber (San Diego State University, now retired) and President Richmond “tag teamed” the recruitment phone calls after they offered me the job.  I took some convincing because I also had an offer on the table from a biotech company.  Both gentlemen were eloquent on the impact I could have on science and engineering students across California and honest about the time it would take to have that impact (a decade).

              As soon as I arrived March 2007, my very first meeting was with President Richmond and the CSUPERB stem cell taskforce.  They were intent on making sure CSU students would be eligible for CIRM support.  After – well – let’s say many months (not a decade) – of advocacy, the CIRM board approved the Bridges to Stem Cell Research (“Bridges”) training program.  President Richmond took the handful of us CSU folks who were at the meeting out to lunch in Sacramento to celebrate.  I’ll never forget the feelings of relief and accomplishment we had (I’m not sure we ate!) – but also our great admiration for Rollin’s stubborn, never-say-die persistence on behalf of future student researchers. By the time we left the restaurant, we planned two Bridges proposal writing workshops (one hosted at Humboldt State, of course) for CSU faculty and administrators.

              Today I searched how many entry-level job openings there are in California for stem cell scientists (~40, depending on how you count; the search link is maintained on our Biocompass website).  Thanks to President Richmond’s advocacy and support, I know hundreds of CSU graduates are eligible for those jobs after working as stem cell research interns and we’re not even a decade into the Bridges training program.

              Based on data we collected earlier this year, we know 44% of the Bridges graduates find jobs at universities and companies. The remainder enroll in doctoral research programs and other professional degree programs. The majority of CSU San Marcos (80%) and San Jose State University (60%) Bridges graduates are employed at companies, including Pfizer, Genentech, Millipore Corporation, Stemgent and Escape Therapeutics. These two particular CSU programs offer regulatory affairs, project management and clinical trials management as part of their curriculum. Their graduates often find jobs before completion of their degree programs – reflecting the market demand for stem cell researchers with biomedical product development knowledge and interest. We also have longitudinal data showing that the first class of Bridges graduates are moving on from their post-graduation jobs – often academic laboratory technician positions – to graduate school or more lucrative research and product development positions in company settings. This is the flow we hoped to develop. The ideas, skills and lessons learned by these graduates help build individual careers, but also provide a key element in the development of regenerative medicine science and industry here in California.

              For these reasons, I think President Richmond is deserving of an award that recognizes “extraordinary contributions to the…field of biotechnology.”  His impact has certainly been extraordinary – in less than a decade! – if using CSUPERB and the Bridges program as a lens.  CSUPERB and I thank him from the bottom of our hearts.  I’m also hoping his example can inspire strategic leaders and advocates going forward!