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Dillon Howarth, Master of Biotechnology: PSM


When Dillon Howarth ’18 MBt defended his master’s thesis, his highly technical presentation took an hour and 45 minutes. Then he was invited to present on the same topic to a national audience. His time limit? Five minutes.

As a graduate student trained in CSUSM’s Master of Biotechnology: A Professional Science Master’s program, Dillon saw this as a challenge, but not insurmountable. Professional Science Master’s programs are graduate degrees that combine science or math with highly valued business skills to develop the next generation of leaders in science.

“This was an academic audience representing PSM programs from vastly different backgrounds,” says Dillon, who was one of 10 student speakers at the 2018 conference for the National Professional Science Master’s Association in Arlington, Virginia. Currently, 345 PSM programs are available in the United States and three other countries, on topics ranging from applied biosciences to zoo, aquarium and animal shelter management.

Dillon needed to make his project relatable to this audience. Pooling his scientific expertise with a newly developed business acumen—including the presentation skills he perfected in the program’s communications class—Dillon did just that and walked away with a third-place win at his first presentation on a national stage.

That’s not the only place Dillon has made an impact with his new degree. His semester-in-residence project focused on manufacturing process improvement in the San Diego Reagent Manufacturing Department at Illumina, a biotechnology company that produces DNA sequencing platforms.

“In the early stages of processing a production order, you need to gather the materials to prepare the order to hit the shop floor,” explains Dillon, who was a manufacturing specialist at Illumina during his master’s studies. “There were a lot of issues in that preparation stage that caused some of the highest amounts of interruptions to the process.”

Dillon implemented elements of lean manufacturing that were introduced in the PSM program to reduce delays in the reagent filling phase of the manufacturing process. Standardizing work across three work shifts, improving communication and feedback between the different work groups, and introducing technologies to solve the logistical issues of inventory availability and accuracy all contributed to a 72 percent decrease of daily time lost to materials-staging-related interruptions, among other significant improvements.

A key tool was an Excel-based worksheet designed by Dillon that analyzes data from various sources in the manufacturing process and runs a mathematics macro to determine if materials are available at the right time to fill competing orders across multiple shifts.

“Running that report shifts ahead or days ahead gives you the foresight into what is going to be insufficient,” Dillon says, which helps reduce the time and budget costs caused by delays.

Dillon’s semester-in-residence project was identified as exemplary by the advisors and the director of the MBt program at CSUSM, and he received the Dr. Al Kern Award for his work.

One of the long-term benefits of the MBt program for Dillon was that it opened a new direction for his career. His title at Illumina today reflects that change: business data analyst.

“This program gets you thinking about more than just science or lab work. One of the classes involved Excel, which led to me using it in this project. I realized that I like analytics and this showed me a door that I could step into.”