Santa Monica College (SMC) has received a $1 million grant

Santa Monica College (SMC) has received a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation for a new equity-centered biotechnology career education program launching later this year. The brand-new program, expected to launch in Fall 2023, consists of two stackable certificates and an associate degree designed to meet the growing industry demand for cancer-fighting scientists in Santa Monica and the Greater Los Angeles area while offering students from diverse and marginalized backgrounds a direct pathway into a dynamic industry.

The $1 million Keck Foundation grant will enable SMC to expand training capacity, improve recruitment and outreach efforts, acquire industry-specific training equipment, and enhance teaching-learning spaces to align with biotech industry standards. SMC's biotech program has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Regional Consortium of Community Colleges and previously received seed funding from the National Science Foundation and federal Perkins V. The curriculum has been vetted and approved by industry experts from Kite, A Gilead Company, Amgen, and BioRad, to name a few.

"The biotech industry is seeing massive growth in the very regions where some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged SMC students reside," said SMC Superintendent/President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery. "This new program will create a direct industry pipeline for our deserving students who will be trained in cutting-edge cell science and immunoassay technologies. We are tremendously grateful to the Keck Foundation for this generous gift!"

Jeffery extended "major thanks" to those responsible for the program's development: "Life Science Professors Dr. Andria Denmon and Dr. Tom Chen, and Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Patricia Ramos, a tireless advocate and facilitator." "And special thanks to Professor Dr. Sandra Hutchinson and retired SMC professor Dr. Kay Azuma who helped bring SMC's biotech program to the notice of the Keck Foundation!" she added.

Dr. Tom Chen also went on to thank several others who were crucial in the development of this new program: "The efforts of retired Life Sciences department chair/professor Dr. Mary Colavito, and Professor of Life Sciences Dr. Mary Bober in building a strong cell and molecular biology program helped lay the solid foundation which made it possible two decades on to build up this new biotechnology program."

"The W.M Keck Foundation's generosity will allow us to prepare the next generation of diverse scientists, highlighting that everyone belongs and is welcomed in science," said Dr. Andria Denmon. "This program is unique because we are designing it to be inclusive of as many students' unique backgrounds and experiences as possible. Diversity and inclusion also means thinking about our students that live with a disability."

Denmon went on to state: "We are excited to partner with the SMC Center for Students with Disabilities and with organizations like CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology). Our program will also provide work-based learning and research opportunities as well as scientific exploration and engagement for system impacted/justice involved individuals. Science has the power to open multiple doors, and we want to make sure our students are first in line when those doors open."

Drs. Denmon and Chen designed two stackable certificate programs: five basic courses (23-units) leading to immediate entry-level lab tech employment opportunities; and four more advanced courses (16 units) covering cell culture and immunoassay methods, microbiology fundamentals and nanobiotechnology. For the Associate in Science degree, biotech majors will take additional coursework in quality control and quality assurance, regulations and insurance issues, plus the standard general education courses required for college transfer.

The SMC biotech major will articulate seamlessly with two established biomanufacturing bachelor's degree programs at Solano College in the North Bay area, and MiraCosta College, in Oceanside, Calif. Both are feeder schools with guaranteed admission to a master's/doctoral degree program in biomanufacturing at Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Other niche graduate programs exist at Azusa Pacific University and the Keck Graduate Institute of the Claremont Colleges consortium.

Regionally, the LA area hosts more than 1,000 life science innovation companies, according to the 2021 California Economic Impact Report, generating $60 billion in economic activity. Some 16,000 technical jobs will be added to this rapidly growing sector over the next three years. Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment demand for lab techs will grow 11 percent by 2028, much faster than average.


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