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!