CSUSM biotech students turning Japanese

CSUSM biotechnology students wear Japanese yukatas while staying at a traditional inn called ryokan during a recent trip to Tokyo./CSUSM

Fourteen students in a biotechnology course at Cal State San Marcos traveled to Tokyo this month to visit impressive laboratories, attend insightful lectures and interact with professionals from widely successful industries.

The trip featured students in the class BIOT675: Bioscience Beyond the Borders, within the Professional Science Master’s (PSM) in Biotechnology program. It was led by Betsy Read, program director and a biological sciences professor; Debora Galasso, a biotechnology lecturer; and two professors from Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences (TUPLS): Kiriko Komura and Kazuya Watanabe.

The connection between CSUSM and TUPLS was forged by Al Kern, an education consultant for Extended Learning who has a longstanding relationship with Komura, a visiting associate professor of life sciences for TUPLS Global Initiatives and the former director of the National Professional Science Master’s Association and PSM affiliation offices. Watanabe is a world-renowned microbiologist and professor at TUPLS.

BIOT675 is an established course in the PSM, but Read suggested revamping it this year by making it an optional immersion experience for students. After working out the logistics, Read and Galasso finally saw their goal come to fruition.

“I have learned and grown through the study-abroad course,” said Gilda Castellanos, an undergraduate biotechnology major. “The opportunity to make new friends, appreciate a new culture, tour multibillion-dollar businesses and gain insight into the biotechnology industries have made me even more excited about graduating and starting a career in the biotech field.”

Galasso, Read and the 14 students were in Tokyo from Jan. 8-18. Students attended labs and lectures, visited various STEM industries, and were immersed in the Japanese culture.

Highlights of the trip included visits to Takeda Global and Shonan Health Innovation Park southwest of Tokyo, where students learned the value of a patient-first mindset grounded in integrity and respect, in addition to the complexities of working in an international environment; Meiji Innovation Center, where they discussed the importance of food sciences in supporting the health of consumers; the TUPLS campus, where they toured several labs and learned to write their names in Kanji; and Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, where they first explored Tokyo culture.

“The trip was an eye-opening experience both professionally and personally. It was an incredible opportunity to visit multiple companies and innovation parks where we learned from the employees firsthand,” said Bridget Hofsteadter, a PSM in Biotechnology major.

Galasso and Read were overjoyed to finally give their students such an enlightening experience. The two had been working with TUPLS since 2019 to develop similar opportunities for both campuses to interact more, but because of COVID-19, many of their original intentions were stalled.

Last fall, the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (CSTEM) hosted two students from TUPLS. After this experience, it was clear to Galasso and Read that their ongoing relationship with TUPLS and the uniqueness of Japanese culture made going to Japan a good choice for the program.

In addition to the instructors, 11 students in the PSM in Biotechnology program, two senior undergraduate students pursuing a bachelor’s in biotechnology and one student pursuing a master’s in biological sciences attended.

Since the course is within the PSM in Biotechnology program, anyone in the existing cohort was eligible to attend. The three other attendees were selected as a way for Galasso and Read to pilot future attendance and to see if it would be worthwhile to expand the program.

CSTEM hopes to expand such programs in the future, given financial feasibility, so that more students can experience different cultures while also learning more about their academic and professional goals.

For more about the day-to-day activities and values of the trip, follow Galasso on LinkedIn, where she details many of the presenters, explorations and discussions.

Story by Bradi Zapata, CSUSM News Service, used by permission.

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