Just the FAQs

Q1: Tell us about your new biotech program at Cal Sate University San Marcos.

Sure. To build an overall biotechnology program, there have to be a lot of components. The core program is a new Bachelors Degree in Biotechnology that we are launching this fall. It's the first major in biotechnology of its kind. Second, we launched a Biotechnology Lab Technician Certificate. This is a post baccalaureate certificate program targeted for a transitioning workforce. It is for people in the workforce who decide they want to work in the biotech industry and need additional training. Thirdly, we are offering and building continuing education programs and specialty training through our Extended Studies College. We are trying to engage the community individuals or biotechnology companies for their educational needs whether it is soft skill development, science programs or custom programs for company employees. We want to determine how we can help fill the community's educational needs, particularly in North County.
Programs on the horizon include a Professional Science Masters Degree in Biotechnology. A blend of science and an MBA program is for those who want to work in a high tech, biotech environment but do not want to stay in the lab their entire career. We also want to foster community forums. For example, we recently held a forum on bioterrorism with several guest lecturers. We want to bring the community to campus or take biotechnology issues to the community with these kinds of forums.

Q2: Tell us about some of the outreach programs and scholarships available for your program at CSUSM.

Let's talk about scholarships first. RetirementDNA is the first to say, "we'll help you launch your biotechnology program". It is the first scholarship at CSUSM that is dedicated to biotechnology majors and is significant at this time. It will give us legs to grow upon. It will allow us to pull together biotechnology-interested students as we advertise the scholarship this fall. As far as outreach programs, I addressed a few earlier, but we are looking for more ways to help non-traditional students and develop programs for community individuals and companies.

Q3: What do you think the program will add to the community that is different from current or prior programs? Has the corporate community been an active participant and supporter?
The community has been very involved in developing the programs. In fact, what we have now is the result of three biotechnology summits with industry leaders, as well as several individual meetings with the bio-community leaders. We asked, "What do you need?" and they said, " We need graduates that are well-prepared, lab-ready and business savvy." Through this feedback and several iterations with faculty, we came up with the Bachelors Degree program, which includes for-credit internships, selected business courses and several new courses loaded in. The curriculum is loaded with heavy science, industry experience and exposure to the community. We hope to provide graduates that are prepared for entry-level jobs as well as careers in the local biotech industry. We take this seriously since we know that 90% of our graduates stay in the San Diego region to live and work.

Q4: Will CSUSM also try to create a pipeline of potential students by working with local high schools in some capacity?

That is something we really, really need in general in this town. We need to get more students at a younger age into that pipeline and then improve the quality that comes out the other end. Yes, we need to work with grade schools and high schools. We are doing that to some degree, but after serving on the San Diego Workforce Partnership and BIOCOM educational committees, I'm sure we need to do more to improve the pipeline.

Q5: What do we need to do here in SD (and California) to improve the appreciation of science as well as performance among high school students?

I think we should start early and do a good job really encouraging young minds to start thinking about science and make it FUN! Plant the seeds, so to speak. We don't know how or what to do yet, but I have approached Palomar and Mira Costa Community Colleges to see if there is something we can all do together to back-integrate into the lower schools.

Q6: Dare to dream. Tell us what you would like the program to look like in ten years?

First, I'd like the program to be recognized by community leaders as a supplier of quality product (students) and "preferred hires". In ten years I would like to see the Bachelor's Degree, Certificate programs and Masters Degree programs matured. I would like to see us start a Center for Integrated & Applied Sciences to merge the disciplines. I'd like to have a science park near campus and be involved in an entrepreneurial kind of way, and have another venue for outside-the-classroom learning. A Center would be a crowning achievement.

Q7: What is the single biggest obstacle to attracting biotech companies to San Diego? Is the fiscal and political crisis hurting at all?

If I had to sum it up into one thing, it is the expense of doing business and the cost of living in this area. In the early days, the need for facilities, services and infrastructure was needed, but San Diego has really matured in the twenty years that I have been here.

Al Kern
Al Kern, Dean of Extended Studies & Founder of the Biotech Certificate Program answers your frequently asked questions.