Sprinkled among the degree recipients at Sacramento State’s spring Commencement were eight graduates of a unique new master’s program who had already lined up scientific jobs after graduation.
Ninnie Abrahamsson, Brian Fury, Elaina Kenney, Nataly Lessa, Ryan Lim, Michelle Ohlson, Sean Roenspie and Heather Stewart are transitioning from the part-time positions they currently occupy to full-fledged scientific researchers.
The Professional Science Master’s (PSM) degree was born of a partnership between Sacramento State’s Department of Biological Sciences and the UC Davis Stem Cell Program. This academic alliance was forged three years ago to create a comprehensive program, including an internship, to prepare graduates for careers as stem cell professionals.
This innovative program is currently funded by a $1.3 million grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “The application process and turnaround time were very quick,” says Professor Thomas Peavy, who sought the grant along with Dean Jill Trainer and Associate Dean Laurel Heffernan of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
“The grant process was very competitive and we were fortunate to receive funding,” says Peavy, the program’s academic coordinator in the Biological Sciences Department. Sac State’s chances for continued funding are enhanced by partnering with UC Davis’ stem cell program, whose director, Jan Nolta, is a Sac State alumna and a previous Distinguished Service Award recipient.
The first cohort of 10 students began the five-semester program, which includes a seven-week summer/fall internship session, in the fall of 2009. Interns worked with mentors as part of disease teams that brought students and research scientists together with clinicians to work toward cellular therapy trials.
Student interns received a $17,500 stipend while working at UC Davis. The grant also paid their mandatory Sac State registration fees while they were enrolled as full-time students.
Rather than write a master’s thesis, the students focused on practical research and laboratory projects to prepare them for careers in the stem cell profession. The hybrid program is designed to develop basic research skills and clinical applications for patients -- in short, get them ready to enter the profession. Employers of recent PSM graduates in the biosciences range from academic laboratory positions to large, multinational pharmaceutical companies and newer biotechnology companies.
The Professional Science Master’s program dovetails with Sacramento State’s Biological Science Department’s efforts to prepare students for the work force. “By bridging with Davis’ stem cell program,” Peavy says, “our students are able to pursue advanced training and excel in science without a Ph.D., while developing highly valued professional skills.”