With a love of the ocean and a talent for biology, Dr. Barbara Juncosa had everything she needed for a promising career in marine biology. But she also had a habit of getting seasick. That revelation, while at the University of Miami, would change the course of higher education here in Southern California.
Juncosa soon switched to studying bacterial genetics. It was while earning her doctorate at The Rockefeller University that she made two discoveries: first, she loved teaching; and second, she was fascinated with the way biotechnology companies transitioned their discoveries into marketable products.
Seeking a career in academia, Juncosa was given the chance to establish a two-year biomanufacturing program at Citrus College before she found a new opportunity in North County San Diego.
MiraCosta College was one of 15 community colleges in California chosen to compliment the state’s universities by offering four-year bachelor’s degrees. Located in San Diego County’s verdant home of 1,225 biotechnology companies, it was MiraCosta’s role to help develop a workforce.
MiraCosta College selected Juncosa to chair the district’s cutting-edge Biotechnology Department, where she and her new faculty and staff have developed the nation’s first four-year biomanufacturing degree program in parallel with an identical program at Solano College.
“Our big challenge was that there were no other biomanufacturing degree programs anywhere,” said Juncosa. “We had to define the program, requirements, determine key areas of study, and understand industry needs, so we could prepare our students to hit the ground running.”
By establishing a relationship of trust with the surrounding biotechnology industry, she and her team were able to not only meet with the companies, but observe first-hand some of the techniques they use to scale discoveries into the commercial volumes needed to meet demand in the marketplace.
And with its first cohort slated to graduate spring 2019, success of the program is getting around. At the community college, which typically prepares students to transfer to a four-year university, Juncosa and her team of 14 full- and part-time faculty are working with other community colleges to create transfer pathways that dovetail into MiraCosta College’s biomanufacturing baccalaureate program.
“We continue to grow the program, which means we must keep up with industry trends, while developing hands-on activities and internship opportunities for students to not only get a job but thrive in companies where they may already work,” Juncosa said.