Steve Casper

Celebrating Steve Casper’s Accomplishments as Dean of the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI)’s Steve Casper has recently transitioned from being Dean of the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences (Riggs School) to devote all his time to being a faculty member, conducting research, and teaching courses, which include the Introduction to the Bioscience Industries.

As Dean, he has added innovative programs to the Riggs School such as the Master of Engineering in Biopharmaceutical Processing (MEng), the Master of Science in Medical Device Engineering (MSMDE), and the Postbaccalaureate Pre-PA Certificate (PPA) program.

Casper, who has taught at KGI since 2003 and been Dean since the end of 2012, said that KGI has always had world-class programs in science and industry, but he is most proud of recent increases in graduation and retention rates.

Nationwide, only about two-thirds of students who start Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) masters programs, on average, graduate. KGI, by contrast, has historically had graduation rates well over 90 percent each year, and this rate has increased to 98 percent in the past three years.

“Pretty much everybody graduates, and very few students drop out, which is what we’re really proud of,” Casper said. “Our outcomes have been stellar in terms of employment, too.”

The Riggs School is focused on industry programs oriented toward preparing students for careers in the biotech industry. Although graduates this year face challenges due to the economic repercussions of COVID-19, in the past two years, more than 70 percent of students already had a job at graduation and most graduates landed a position within a few months.

Casper credits these high figures in graduation rates and job placement to KGI’s supportive atmosphere and personalized approach.

“We have some great faculty and administrators that offer a high-touch environment.”

“They work really hard to identify students that are having problems and give them help as soon as possible,” Casper said.

KGI President Sheldon Schuster has invested in dedicated support staff to provide help to students. Additionally, student support networks, dedicated teachers, and a low faculty to student ratio all contribute to the success of KGI students.

Now Casper is excited about being able to dedicate more time and energy to teaching and research. As a professor, he values project-based learning and forming partnerships with companies to give students real-world experience in the bioscience industry.

“Within the Introduction to the Bioscience Industry course, we organize projects for teams of students to work with a startup to help them figure out how to move their technology along, mainly through trying to better understand the markets that it can go into,” Casper said.

He estimates that he’s organized at least 250 of these projects over the last 15 years, many of which include startup entrepreneurs working in local incubators and technology accelerators. The relationships he has formed have helped Casper better understand biotech industry cluster dynamics, one of his research specialties.

“Across the board, we find that a lot of our students end up getting these jobs that integrate roles where they’re not the specialist finance person or doctor or PhD scientist, but they know enough about those three fields to talk about all of them and bring the knowledge together,” Casper said. “My experience has shown that these integrator people tend to be the most entrepreneurial because they can forge patterns of communication that are not possible otherwise because those other people don’t know how to talk to others outside of their professional world.”

Casper also looks forward to spending more time with his wife and two daughters and pursuing his hobbies, which include traveling, going to Disneyland, listening to classical music, and running.

Martin Zdanowicz, Dean of the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and the Riggs School, has expanded his role as of June 1.

“Dean Z is going to do an amazing job, and I think his vision is going to be terrific,” Casper said. “I just really want to see KGI thrive, and I’m looking forward to playing a big role in that.”