Anniversary and Commencement Spotlighted in Claremont Courier
Founded in 1997, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences is the youngest member of the Claremont Colleges. Since its founding, the young institution has grown and developed a reputation for excellence with its unique offering of graduate-level, application-based scientific research and education.
This Sunday, the institute will not only celebrate its 10-year anniversary but will also honor its 6th graduating class at its 2007 Commencement.
“It’s incredible to see what we have done in 10 years and it’s astounding to see where we are now," KGI president Sheldon Schuster said.
In the beginning
As president of Harvey Mudd College in 1997, Henry Riggs identified a need for scientists and engineers who could help translate basic scientific discoveries into practical applications that would improve the health of people. Mr. Riggs went on to become KGI’s founding president and a $50-million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation made the institution, that would train such scientists and engineers, a reality.
It was 5 years after KGI was founded that the school awarded its first Master of Bioscience degrees in 2002. This year, 37 students will be awarded the MBS degree, the highest total number of graduating students for KGI to date.
“The companies that hire our graduates keep wanting more and more," Mr. Schuster explained. "A big part of our program is ethics and it’s important they understand the ethical part of what they do. When the students begin our program, we tell them that this is the first day of their professional career and that they’re expected to behave ethically and responsibly from then on."
Working as a team
Another one of the major focuses of KGI is a teamwork atmosphere where the ability to collaborate and work well with others makes up a key component of the two-year program. Replacing the traditional master’s thesis of conventional MS programs, KGI requires its second-year students to complete a Team Masters Project (TMP).
The project brings together 3 to 5 second-year KGI students for an academic, year-long effort with the purpose of providing practical results to the sponsoring companies of the projects. Public presentations of the projects then occur just weeks before commencement.
“The opportunity to work on the Team Masters Project has been invaluable," said Thomas Quirk, one of the 37 students who will graduate this Saturday. “One of the things I like about Keck is how young it is and that’s played out really well for me. There have been opportunities to set up things here that would be harder at other schools. It’s definitely cool to be here at this point."
A mission with a purpose
KGI’s mission statement declares the institution to be dedicated to education and research aimed at translating into practice, for the benefit of society, the power and potential of life science. The institute is unique in its curriculum, which offers the study of systems biology, computer science and bioengineering with instruction in organizational structure, finance management and business ethics.
“Private initiative is more successful than relying on international aid so when I was searching for a school, I was looking for a program where I could learn biology and business," Mr. Quirk pointed out. "[After graduating from Keck] I anticipate getting more experience in the US biotech industry and in a few years moving forward with my private endeavors."
Sue Friedman, KGI assistant director of student services and the 2007 commencement coordinator, finds the KGI student body as one of her main reasons why she enjoys working at the institute. The assistant director worked within student affairs at Caltech and within a nonprofit organization before joining Keck in 2005.
“When I was working in nonprofit, I missed being in student affairs. So when I saw this position, I applied for it," Ms. Friedman said. "This is a very dynamic environment and I like working with graduate students. They are an important population to pay attention to and I see them as the wave of the future."
A time to celebrate
At this year’s commencement program on the campus, KGI will award its first 4 honorary degrees to: Mr. Riggs (founding KGI president), Robert Day (chairman and president of W.M. Keck Foundation), Sidney Weinberg (KGI founding chair emeritus) and commencement speaker Stanley Prusiner (Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine in 1997). An alumni dinner for the first 5 KGI graduating classes will be held this Saturday at the Alumni Patio at 4:30 p.m.
While Mr. Schuster sees continuous growth and a dedication to keeping the current culture of the campus as endeavors for KGI in the future, the president also is very grateful for the support of the other members of the Claremont Colleges as well.
“We could not have done this if we weren’t a part of a group of schools that are excited about starting new things," he said. "They’ve been incredibly supportive and helpful."
KGI’s Commencement 2007 will take place this Sunday on the campus’ east lawn at 11 a.m.—Landus Rigsby