Changing of the Guard: Strategic Planning Council 2015-16


usualsuspectsAs the academic year draws to a close, CSU campus presidents nominate deans to serve on the CSUPERB Strategic Planning Council (SPC).  We had a large turnover of deans this year, resulting in five openings on the council, and a Chair and Deputy Chair election.

The SPC just completed a strategic planning cycle so you might assume the turnover could be associated with that extra workload. But – no – deans are the usual suspects for leadership roles across the academy.  Indeed, we lost two of our SPC deans this year to new jobs: CSU Fresno Dean Boyer is now vice president of agriculture and dean of Montana State University’s College of Agriculture and Cal Poly Pomona Dean Lapidus took on the presidency at Fitchburg State University.

I’m relieved and happy to report we had tremendous interest in SPC service. The new dean appointments to the 2015-16 Strategic Planning Council are:

Anne Houtman (CSU Bakersfield, College of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering),
Forouzan Golshani (CSU Long Beach, College of Engineering),
Katherine Kantardjieff (CSU San Marcos, College of Science and Mathematics),
Lorenzo Smith (CSU Sacramento, College of Engineering & Computer Science), and
Lynn Stauffer (Sonoma State University, School of Science & Technology).

Despite the extra work associated with the new strategic plan last year, Deans Golshani and Kantardjieff put their names back in the hat for reappointment; they wanted to see the new plan played out! The 2015-16 cohort of deans will join Deans Stanley Maloy (San Diego State University, College of Sciences) and S.K. Ramesh (CSU Northridge, College of Engineering and Computer Sciences) on the council.   The continuing SPC faculty members are: Jill Adler-Moore (Cal Poly Pomona), Daryl Eggers (San Jose State University), Paula Fischhaber (CSU Northridge), Michael Goldman (San Francisco State University), Jennifer Whiles Lillig (Sonoma State University), Bori Mazzag (Humboldt State University), Kathie McReynolds (CSU Sacramento), Bianca Mothe (CSU San Marcos), Sandy Sharp (CSU Los Angeles) and Koni Stone (CSU Stanislaus). We can’t thank all these good folks enough for their service to CSUPERB.  Unlike Keyser Soze, they will leave their fingerprints all over the programs and work CSUPERB does these next three years.

We also found out today that Mike Goldman and Kathie McReynolds were re-elected as SPC Chair and Deputy Chair, respectively.  Mike and Kathie make tremendous commitments to CSUPERB with their re-elections. In addition to their regular jobs as teacher-scholars on campus, they’ll be calling into our weekly operational committee calls for another three years.  Wait until they hear we’re thinking of turning those meetings into Zoom videoconferences going forward…!

Personally I look forward to working with this newly configured SPC team – their expertise combined will undoubtedly strengthen biotechnology education and research across the CSU. I also thank the CSU campus presidents involved for their willingness to share these extraordinary academic leaders with CSUPERB. I am quite thankful for this diverse, high-achieving and opinionated group of people – they make my job infinitely more interesting and do-able!


Image Credit: MonsterGallery (×12-movie-poster)

Breaking Radio Silence with a New Strategic Plan

It’s been a tough winter/spring in the CSUPERB program office. We faced month-long jury duty (yes, they can do that to 4-person state program teams!) and influenza outbreaks of at least three different varieties.

Even though the wheels came off the blog here, we presented a new strategic plan to our Presidents’ Commission (they approved it) and after some edits the Chair, President Haynes, submitted that plan to Chancellor White for his approval. We ran our spring grant programs, closed the books on our 27th annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium, organized peer review meetings (involving a whole new Sharepoint-based review system – thanks to Tyson & the Sharepoint Gurus at the Chancellor’s Office!), and kicked off the second CSU I-Corps cohort. We submitted a proposal and found out we’ll have two new CSU STEM VISTA members joining our team in July (not that Shannon Palka, our current VISTA member is replaceable…) Last weekend we presented our AY15-16 annual operating plan and budget to the Strategic Planning Council (they struggled with it but we have something to present to the Presidents’ Commission). Wednesday we received applications for the Fall CSU I-Corps cohort.  Over the next month or so – I promise to report out on all this activity here at the blog.

So – imagine my delight to receive notice this afternoon that Chancellor White approved our 2015-2018 Strategic Plan!  It is the culmination of a process we started last August at the summer Faculty Consensus Group meeting.  But more importantly it represents a tremendous amount of thought, analysis of survey data, input from faculty, students and administrators system-wide, interviews with partners and, yes, committee-based word-smithing and grammar checking.  I take the blame for all spaces between sentences.

Now we have a strategic framework (or sand box, if you prefer) for the next three years. With the energy and devotion of the CSUPERB community and support from our administration, I know we can make the CSU biotechnology student learning experience an engaging and valuable one for all!  Many thanks to everyone, including Chancellor White, for your support.

Thankful for True Partnerships

Yesterday we sent out award letters to the new 2015 Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholars, along with our annual program report to the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research board.

Howell Research Scholars are undergraduates who work alongside faculty researchers in biotechnology labs across the CSU.  For this program, the research projects proposed are relevant to women’s health.  The Howell Foundation defines women’s health quite broadly. As a result Howell projects range from basic research on the effects of ethanol on neurological development in fruit flies to clinical work to explore the links between sexually transmitted infections, sexual behavior and health outcomes in a campus setting.

The impact of this program is best communicated by the Scholars themselves (see page 2 of the report, linked here).  As part of their final reports, we ask Scholars to self-report on their gains as a result of the research experience (click on the image below to get the larger, visible version!).  We use David Lopatto’s SURE format (mostly) to

Students rank their learning gains as a result of undergraduate experience using a range from "very small gain" (=1) to "very large gain" (=5).  The 2014 Howell Scholars class reported average gains in the "large gain" to "very large gain" range!

Students rank their learning gains as a result of undergraduate experience using a range from “very small gain” (=1) to “very large gain” (=5). The 2014 Howell Scholars class reported average gains in the “large gain” to “very large gain” range. Interesting, the lowest self-reported gains this year related to science writing skills.

investigate learning gains as a result of the undergraduate research experience.  Even though most of the 2014 class of Howell Scholars had worked previously in a research laboratory, all of them reported large or very large overall benefits from the Howell-sponsored experience.

Most scholars work on their funded projects part-time during the spring term, then immerse themselves in the project over the summer. This kind of opportunity – to take a deep dive into a single research project – remains open to only a minority of undergraduate CSU STEM students.  In answer CSU faculty and administrators continue their work to develop new external partnerships, internship programs, and project-based learning in courses throughout the undergraduate curriculum.

Many of the Howell Scholars mentioned the importance of their faculty mentor. We know the immersive, working partnership and team-building between student, peer and faculty researchers offers a context in which students see themselves as scientists (often for the first time).  The teamwork and camaraderie students experience in working laboratories helps students persist even in the face of technical set-backs (and long experiments!).

“…there was a week in mid July; my experiment was behind schedule, and I need to report my data to my PI the next week. I therefore decided to work full time over the weekend. I told my fellow students that they didn’t have to go. However, all of them, all 3, decided that they’ll come in anyway, to help me get my work done. It was that moment that I realized how good of a team I had with me.” – Phuc Nguyen (CSU Long Beach, 2014 Howell Scholar)

True partnerships – shared goals, camaraderie, teamwork – are special things.  Our thirteen-year-long partnership with the Doris A. Howell Foundation is something we are thankful for here at CSUPERB.  Together we’ve been a good team!  The Howell donors remained committed to undergraduate researchers during the Great Recession; not all organizations were so steady in their giving during those years.  Likewise, CSUPERB was fortunate to maintain our budget for this program even in the face of deep cuts in state support for the CSU.

Both CSUPERB and the Howell Foundation have a long-view (influenced by the remarkable Dr. Howell) on educating physicians, clinicians and researchers. We know the effect of two terms spent in a research group plays out over decades and careers. We look forward to hearing from our Howell Scholar alums in February; every three years we reach out to them to find out where they are.  They often write heartfelt notes; they are still exceedingly thankful for the opportunities the Howell Foundation, its board and its donors made possible.

Mapping CIRM Bridges Program Impact

Last week a CSU team made public comments in support of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Bridges program.  The CIRM board* decided to extend the program for one year.  Of course, we’re hoping CIRM will decide to extend the program even longer.

Along with Ephraim Smith, Jill Adler-Moore and me, Sara Downey from ViaCyte made comments. Sara is a Humboldt State University graduate.  Ms. Downey is a former CIRM Bridges Scholar who did an internship at University of California, San Francisco before landing a job at ViaCyte in San Diego. Even though Drs. Smith and Adler-Moore made important points, all ears in the room were on Ms. Downey as she made her remarks. You see, she represents the collective outcome and effectiveness of the Bridges program better than numbers and reports** can.

In 2009 we made the case that the Bridges program would operate as a networked workforce development program. The CSU educates undergraduate and master’s students.  After they complete their degrees, they have a spectrum of career paths to follow: into industry, into medical school, into doctoral degree programs, etc.  CIRM hopes that Bridges graduates continue their interest in regenerative medicine and take their skills into positions and programs to accelerate developments in the stem cell field.  As they advance so does the field.

In fact Sara Downey’s presence at last week’s meeting was electric because most everyone in the room knew she’s on a team developing an embryonic stem cell-derived product as a treatment for type 1 diabetes.  In fact ViaCyte announced this week they implanted their device into the first patient as part of its FDA-approved phase I/II clinical study.  No one knows how the clinical trial will work out but hopes are high that the device is safe and effective and, especially, that patients might benefit.  It was a blast talking with Sara over lunch after the meeting.*** After four years on the job, she’s transformed from a fresh biological sciences graduate with academic research experience into a biotech professional comfortable talking about Six Sigma, cGMPs, regulatory affairs, biotech business cycles, and even process engineering! My impression is that her learning curve mirrors the learning curves at CIRM as well.

So how do you show that a workforce development program is successful and effective? If only we could get in-person updates from all 702 of our Bridges Scholars!  We did the next best thing (in a more efficient but less personal way) by asking for “last known status” data from the Bridges PIs.****  We discovered that 89% of the Bridges Scholars (n=530) find a job or enter a stem cell research-related graduate degree program within one year of their degree completion.  This is pretty convincing evidence that employers and admissions officers value our graduates’ knowledge, skills and accomplishments. For comparison, only 40% of life sciences graduates found degree-related employment during the Great Recession.  Likewise, the students themselves choose to continue in stem-cell inspired pathways, suggesting their experiences were supportive and transformative; only 6% chose to do something entirely different.  As CIRM decides on what form a Bridges 2.0 program might take, I’m sure the Bridges PIs will be investigating “what worked” and what needs improvement in each of their programs.

Last week I really wanted to show a “last known status” map – but when you make public comments you’re lucky to get a microphone and three minutes!  I’ll share the data here. Red map markers indicate CSU campuses hosting CIRM Bridges programs. Blue map markers with flask icons indicate organizations employing Bridges graduates (dark blue = company; light blue = non-profit). Green markers with a portico icon indicate universities at which Bridges graduates are attending graduate or medical school programs. (The map is not accurate down to street level; markers indicate only approximate city vicinity!) As I dust off my *.kml skills and the Bridges PIs provide new data, I’ll work to make a more layered map with interesting data queries – but for now – click on the markers, zoom and pan (don’t forget to zoom out to get the international view).

I am happy to see the number and diversity of companies in California hiring Bridges graduates. The roster includes not only early-stage, “next gen” California biotech companies, but also some venerable heavy weights in the pharmaceutical business. This is a healthy mix of organizations working to advance stem cell technologies. In spite of the recession and a drought of early-stage capital, California is still blessed with entrepreneurs and innovative developers choosing to work in the biomedical field. Just think what the map will be like when a few more classes of Bridges alums join the regenerative medicine efforts, additional product development investments are made, and technological challenges are worked out!

It’s been a good month for the CSU’s researchers.  In addition to the CIRM Bridges extension, CSU campuses won Helmsley Trust-supported STEM Collaboratives grants and NIH-funded BUILD awards.  In combination these investments help us offset cuts in public funding, build inspiring and engaging, up-to-the-minute courses, and support the CSU’s faculty research mentors who make all of this possible.  Most of all these investments guarantee we’re graduating CSU students ready to make a contribution, to develop viable technologies, and to move companies and research teams forward.


* The CIRM board is called the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee, the ICOC.

**The report (.pdf) we submitted to CIRM is linked here.

***She’s agreed to speak at CSUPERB’s Strategic Planning Retreat in mid-November. She not only speaks as an alum or an industry professional – but also as an employer. She supervises CIRM Bridges interns from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at ViaCyte!

****Many thanks to the Bridges graduates who answer repeated surveys from the CSU and to the PIs and program administrators who collated this data together for me!


It was a huge day for undergraduate researchers and biotechnology faculty mentors at CSU Long Beach, CSU Northridge and San Francisco State University.

The NIH announced today that all three universities won BUILD grants. These are huge grants ($17million – $22million over 5 years). Each grant will help to prepare greater numbers of undergraduate students for biomedical research careers, to intentionally support students’ work towards their goals, and to carry out studies to gauge the effectiveness of campus programming. Because the CSU’s students – as a whole* – reflect California’s demographics, these grants are also designed to help improve the diversity of the biomedical research workforce.  Interestingly each of the three CSU BUILD programs will be studying a different angle of the cultural and institutional changes needed so that more underrepresented students persist and succeed in biomedical research-based career paths.

BUILD programs will support undergraduate researchers on the three campuses and at partner sites – including both community organizations and research-intensive universities. We all know that mentored research experiences (faculty-mentored and peer-mentored) are high impact practices, shown to engage and inspire undergraduates.  They also happen to be exactly the kind of experiences biotechnology employers, medical schools and doctoral programs are seeking in our graduates.  So – all in all – this new investment in the CSU’s students and faculty mentors is a huge win for California (and the nation’s) biotechnology and biomedical communities!

From left: Professor of Biology Carmen Domingo (CSUPERB PI), Professor of Cognitive Psychology Avi Ben-Zeev, Professor of Biology and Lead Investigator for SF BUILD Leticia Márquez-Magaña (CSUPERB PI) and Associate Professor of Chemistry/Biochemistry Teaster Baird Jr. Photo Credit to SFSU (

From left: Professor of Biology Carmen Domingo (CSUPERB PI), Professor of Cognitive Psychology Avi Ben-Zeev, Professor of Biology and Lead Investigator for SF BUILD Leticia Márquez-Magaña (CSUPERB PI) and Associate Professor of Chemistry/Biochemistry Teaster Baird Jr. Photo Credit to SFSU (

But the news is also tremendously exciting and personal to the CSUPERB community. The grants involve many of our friends and colleagues, CSUPERB PIs, chief research officers, Presidents’ Commission and FCG members. For years it seems we’ve been talking amongst ourselves about the strategic need for more public and private support for undergraduate education and research.  Even at the national level there has been much talk and reporting about closing achievement gaps, but relatively few dollars were targeted to undergraduate students and researchers on our campuses.  Of course – taking into account last week’s announcement of the Helmsley Trust-supported STEM Collaboratives – it’s plain to see CSU faculty and administrators are doing much more than talking about things. But now they have some new resources with which to innovate and address head-on the implicit biases in our education and research culture.  I’m just saying – tonight many of us have goosebumps!


*Not our STEM graduates, however.  See data here.


Talking about Innovation Corps and the CSU I-Corps Site

On Monday and Tuesday, the CSUPERB Faculty Consensus Group (FCG) and Strategic Planning Council (SPC) met to plan out the program details for academic year 2014-2015.  We had packed agendas, so there wasn’t much wiggle room for wide-ranging discussions about program news (always frustrating to academic scientists!).

But when I re-introduced the new CSU I-Corps Site program – the group wanted to stop, talk, ponder and learn.  Most of the FCG representatives knew we submitted a proposal but this was our first set of meetings since the award was made. We used NCIIA’s 3-minute video to introduce I-Corps to the group, but there were many more questions than the video could answer or we could address in the time allotted.

So imagine my delight to find a new 30-minute interview with Steve Blank on Mendels Pod. As readers of this blog might know, Steve Blank is the architect of the original Lean LaunchPad course at Stanford and has worked closely with NSF and NIH to create a National Innovation Network around the I-Corps Nodes, Sites and Teams.  We’ve already added the video to our Resources page at the CSU I-Corps Web Portal and encouraged the SPC members to watch.  In my opinion the video answers most of the questions asked at Monday and Tuesday’s meetings.

There are many pundits, thought-leaders and educators thinking about (bio)technology commercialization these days – as are the FCG and SPC.  As we kicked off our strategic Tagxedo_FCG_WordCloud_080414planning process, we asked the campus representatives to tell us what issues CSUPERB needs to pay attention to 2015-2018.  Industry was a prominent feature of the resulting word cloud (blue figure to the left; click to zoom in), as were interdisciplinary, partnerships and collaboration.

Reinforcing this convergence of thought, my inbox today included a Notice Of Request For Information from the U.S. administration looking to inform a new “Strategy for American Innovation.” The notice calls out “the convergence of biology, the physical sciences, and engineering; and the emergence of human-centered design” as an “innovation trend.”  As the black and white figure below (taken from this new report from NSF; click on the chart to zoom in) shows, biotechnology and pharmaceutical extramural industry R&Dcompanies depend heavily on academic researchers and external partners, compared to other industries.  These industries represent one “customer” for biotechnology ideas academic researchers might have.  This is a big shift in thinking for PIs trained to see funding agencies as their sole “customers.” The FCG and SPC think CSUPERB needs to support faculty and students interested in partnering to provide solutions for customer markets and global needs, however those “pulls” might be defined.

The I-Corps curriculum and program pushes researchers “out of the building” to talk with unfamiliar customers and industry experts. This outward-facing, experiential learning process aims to teach researchers how to find customers lean vs designwho need their expertise and ideas to solve real, “painful” problems.  Blank and others hope evidence-based entrepreneurship can make the research and development process more efficient and capable of fueling a national “innovation strategy.” A ‘customer focus’ is not only a culture change on university campuses, it’s a change in how start-up companies, corporations and management faculty think about innovation and product development (zoom in on the figure here; sourced from this Steve Blank blog post).

If Steve Blank’s 30-minute video doesn’t give you enough information to imagine what the customer discovery process might be like, the CSU I-Corps program team (me, along with Jay Chandler and Shannon Palka, the new VISTA members helping us ramp up student outreach) recommends reading All In Startup, by Diana Kander.  It’s a rip-snorting evidence-based entrepreneurship instructional text masquerading as a summer novel.  I finished the book in round-trip flights from San Diego to San Francisco last week.

So far the CSU I-Corps has made two microgrants to student-led teams working on patient solutions.  By the September 8th deadline, we’re also hoping to see applications from agricultural researchers, environmental scientists and basic researchers interested in exploring commercialization pathways.  We know there are creative, curious researchers across the CSU capable of solving societal problems.  We hope CSU I-Corps can help them figure out how.

Vision and Change at CSUPERB

Dean Jim Henderson (CSU Los Angeles & CSUPERB SPC member) and I head to Washington, D.C. next week to attend an end-of-summer meeting with 373 others titled, “Vision and Change in Biology Undergraduate Education:  Chronicling Change, Inspiring the Future.” The meeting is hosted by an alphabet soup of organizations and agencies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  AAAS and NSF sponsored the 2011 Vision & Change Report and “call to action” to transform undergraduate biology education for all students.  The main goal of Vision & Change is “to transform long institutionalized patterns of instruction so that they align with what we have come to understand about how learning takes place.”*

Following discussions at the August 5 & 6th FCG & SPC meetings at the Chancellor’s Office, CSUPERB re-committed to the recommendations made in the Vision & Change report and others calling for student-centered, evidence-based undergraduate education. Notably our industry partners make similar recommendations. CSUPERB evolved programs to strategically address the need all our students have for experiences that allow them to “be” scientists (and engineers). We are inordinately proud of projects we’ve seeded at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and CSU Sacramento (& other campuses) that involve hundreds of students in biological sampling, data analysis and ongoing research projects. CSUPERB’s budget can’t support all the CSU’s biotechnology students, but we hope that projects, course innovations, and curriculum revisions we seed will take hold and evolve into effective, engaging, modern undergraduate programs over time. To build Vision & Change-spirited programs, CSUPERB-supported teams need support from campus departments and leaders, as well as external agencies like NSF and Bayer Corporation. Carl Wieman famously stated that change like this would require 5% of a department’s budget over five years.

But we’ve found that budget and money aren’t the only barriers to curriculum change.  In fact the poster we’re presenting (Vision & Change Poster August 2013) highlights some of the difficulties we’ve faced convincing students, faculty and administrators about the need for change. The eye-rolling, just-another curriculum change initiative response (thanks for nothing, MOOC hype!) is a buzz-saw to conversation and learning. Remarkably, externally-funded researchers and un-tenured faculty fear funding agencies and retention-tenure-promotion (RTP) committees will not see instructional innovation as a valuable use of their time. Many scientists and engineers teaching across the CSU are still not aware of the yawning achievement gaps between all students and underrepresented minority students, for instance.  Jim and I are hoping the meeting will allow us to find ways to break the mold, infuse research across the curriculum, empower our teacher-scholars, meet others working at comprehensive, public universities, and expose us to creative ideas to improve undergraduate STEM education for our students.



*Linda L. Slakey & Judith A. Verbeke (NSF), page x, Vision & Change Report (2011).