Sometimes the toughest thing about college isn’t college itself, but what comes immediately afterward.
Recent graduates may enter the workforce and find that their classroom knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into job skills. Those bound for doctoral programs might be prepared for the coursework but not the rigorous research environment. And those headed for careers in education could find that teaching a class is far different from taking a class.
A new College of Science program funded by the National Science Foundation aims to bridge those gaps, easing students’ transition to life after college.
The Biological Training in Education and Research (BioTiER) Scholars Program will provide biology graduate students with real-world, hands-on learning experiences in three tracks: (1) STEM industries including biotechnology, environmental/green technology, biomedical engineering or pharmaceutical industries, (2) academia as a faculty member in a physical or life science department at the community college level, and (3) STEM fields that require a doctoral degree.
Students who enter the program will have access to workshops, roundtables and training seminars with successful alumni. Eleven students will be selected each year for a $10,000 scholarship made possible by a $600,000 grant from the NSF.
“The reason we pay them these scholarships is so they don’t have to work off campus,” says Steve Alas, associate professor of biological sciences and director of the BioTiER program. “It keeps them engaged longer in their thesis research, and it decreases time to graduation.”
Alas says the NSF took an interest in BioTiER because it directly addresses a troubling finding from a recent national survey of biomedical company CEOs. The survey found that only eight percent of CEOs felt graduates were “very prepared” for the workplace. Cal Poly Pomona, with its hands-on learning model seems especially well-poised to help solve that problem.
The BioTiER program has been tailored to fit the needs of what Alas calls “stakeholders.”
“Stakeholders are those people who are going to hire our product — our product being our graduate students in the next stage of their careers,” he says.
To ensure that the program is meeting real-world demands, Alas and his colleagues have tapped a stakeholder for each of the tracks to help direct the program. Those stakeholders are Jarrod O’Leary, director of Microbiology at Pomona-based Med-Pharmex (Industry Track), David Mirman, the chair of the biological sciences department at Mt. SAC (Education Track), and Greg Payne, director of the umbrella Ph.D. admissions program at UCLA (Ph.D. track).
“We’re really excited because it’s taking our best students and helping them not just make it, but excel in the STEM workforce,” he says. “We’re feeding into California’s strong industries — education, environmental conservation, and biomedical research.”
The NSF grant will provide funding for the program through 2018. Students interested in applying and alumni interested in participating in seminars or workshops may contact Alas at firstname.lastname@example.org.