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Cal State San Marcos receives nearly $3 million for stem cell mentoring

The CSU San Marcos campus is shown in this photo. Sept. 16, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen
The CSU San Marcos campus is shown in this photo. Sept. 16, 2021.

Cal State San Marcos has been awarded a nearly $3 million five-year grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to invest in its new COMPASS training program, it was announced Friday.

COMPASS — or Creating Opportunities through Mentorship and Partnership Across Stem Cell Science — is intended to work to prepare a diverse group of undergraduate students for careers in regenerative medicine by combining research opportunities with mentorship experiences. COMPASS at CSUSM recruits local high school students to the university to train them in stem cells and life sciences.

"This new program highlights our growing commitment to creating a diverse workforce, one that taps into communities that have been historically underrepresented in the biomedical sciences," said Dr. Maria T. Millan, president and CEO of California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that the benefits of scientific discovery are not always accessible to communities that most need them.


"CIRM is committed to tackling these challenges by creating a diverse and dedicated workforce that can meet the technical demands of taking novel treatment ideas and making them a reality," she said.

The $2,877,200 grant will fund stem cell educational outreach at three North County high schools: High Tech High North County, Mission Hills High School and San Marcos High School. It will also support 30 students for two years of training and provide diversity, equity and inclusion training for research mentors, a statement from CSU San Marcos reads.

The program will recruit first-year CSUSM biotechnology undergraduate students as well as students from the high schools.

"We are excited to partner with CSUSM to provide our high school students with this introduction to life sciences," said San Marcos Unified School District Superintendent Andy Johnsen. "This work aligns perfectly with our vision to ensure all SMUSD students are "future ready" by providing opportunities to explore future career fields."

As part of the mentoring program, CSUSM is partnering with La Jolla Institute for Immunology and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery. The institutions will present tours and instruction on the different components of each organization's research and development pipelines.


At La Jolla Institute for Immunology, Drs. Mitchell Kronenberg and Sujan Shresta will serve as mentors for COMPASS trainees. Kronenberg is focused on learning more about immune cell roles in the airways, lungs and gut. Shresta is dedicated to shedding light on how immune cells interact with viruses such as Zika, SARS-CoV-2 and dengue. Her lab also specializes in the development of mouse models for immune-system research.

"We're thrilled to give COMPASS trainees a firsthand look at the challenges and opportunities in immunology," Kronenberg said. "This is a fascinating field where students can follow their curiosity to pursue many different career opportunities and contribute to life-saving work."

One of the first events under the grant, Stem Cell Awareness Day, will kick off Oct. 11 as CSUSM biology professor Bianca Romina Mothe, the director of the grant program, takes undergraduate students to the partner high schools to introduce the COMPASS program to high school seniors.