KGI president Sheldon Schuster

KGI President Dr. Sheldon Schuster Announces Retirement

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) President Dr. Sheldon Schuster has announced his retirement, effective following the 2023-24 academic year. Since becoming KGI’s second president on July 15, 2003, he has brought massive growth to the young institution and played a pivotal role in establishing KGI as a recognized leader in life sciences and healthcare education. 

Ross Grossman, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, shared

“On behalf of the entire Board of Trustees, I want to express my deep gratitude to Shelly for his leadership to KGI for the past 21 years.” 

“I have worked with Shelly for 20 of those years and consider him a friend and the cornerstone of KGI’s entrepreneurial and innovative culture.  Shelly’s retirement leaves all of us with feelings of appreciation, gratitude, and pride for what he has accomplished during his presidency. His impact will live on through our students and alumni as we build on his legacy for generations to come.”

When Schuster became president, KGI only had one program and 45 students. Since then, KGI has established nearly 30 degree, certificate, and summer programs. Over 600 students are now enrolled. Additionally, KGI has expanded into multiple buildings, built student housing, and established ample space for growth.

To guide this growth process, Schuster has built a strong Board of Trustees composed of 28 industry, healthcare, and education leaders. He also created KGI’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign, meeting the $30 million goal a year ahead of schedule.

After receiving his Ph.D. in biochemistry, Schuster acquired extensive experience in academia and industry. He started teaching at the university level in 1976, eventually serving as Director of the Biotechnology Program for the University of Florida in Gainesville before assuming the presidency of KGI.

Having occupied both academia and industry, Schuster felt KGI should offer a different type of educational experience—one that was forward-facing and different from traditional models focusing on a combination of innovation and an entrepreneurial approach to higher education.

“We are one of the only higher ed institutions essentially formed in the 21st century,” Schuster said. “Additionally, we’re the only graduate institution not affiliated with an undergraduate institution. Instead, we aim to provide the best education necessary for a student to become a leader in the life science and healthcare industries.”

This means bridging the gap between industry and academia by providing the type of hands-on education KGI has become known for, centered around group projects and collaborations with leading companies in the biotech, pharma, and medical device industries. Students learn essential skills, including critical thinking, communication, interdisciplinary collaboration, and creativity.

In the early days, KGI prepared students to enter an entirely new industry—the biotech industry—while introducing a new degree, the Master of Business and Science (MBS).

Schuster knew that a groundbreaking approach was vital to meet the health challenges of the modern world brought on by climate change, global epidemics, and an aging population.

“I’m quite proud that over the years, we’ve been able to expand our outreach and number of programs while staying true to KGI’s original mission, which is utilizing the advances in science and technology to benefit society,” Schuster said.

One major turning point for KGI was the introduction of the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (SPHS) in 2014, with the goal of training students to work in industry.

The Master of Engineering in Biopharmaceutical Processing (MEng) originated from a conversation Schuster had with Amgen about the need for more programs that specifically taught students how to discover and manufacture drugs.

Another highlight was 2018 when new master’s programs in medical device engineering, genetic counseling, and genomic data analytics welcomed their first cohorts.

“Our genetic counseling program is very impressive and growing in demand,” Schuster said.

More recently, KGI has introduced an Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) as well as master’s programs in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPA) and Community Medicine (MSCM).

“The occupational therapy program is working closely with the medical device program, which has never happened anywhere in academia,” Schuster said. “The PA program also focuses on surgical systems and devices and industry leadership. With our community medicine program—bringing the latest medical developments to underrepresented communities—we are again staying true to our original mission of utilizing medicine to benefit all levels of society.”

The student outcomes speak for themselves. The average annual income after four years of graduation is approximately $107,000. 90% of MBS alums secure employment within six months of graduation.

At the same time, Schuster is committed to fostering new opportunities for students.

 “We’re admitting students from varied backgrounds, and many are minorities and first-generation students. Our students have a lot of grit. I love their energy and their naivete. Nobody has told them what is not possible.”

Their can-do attitude has enabled them to progress rapidly. Recent data from Amgen reveals that KGI graduates have moved up in company ranks more quickly than employees from any other school.

“Diversity comes from the top,” Schuster said. “We also have a diverse board and faculty. We put significant effort into ensuring we have a very different perspective as an institution.”

As part of its commitment to increasing diversity in healthcare, KGI’s MSCM program trains future healthcare leaders to go into underrepresented communities, build trust, and determine the specific needs of these communities.

When asked for his advice to KGI’s staff and faculty as the school moves forward,  Schuster’s advice is to “never stop innovating.”

“The world is too dynamic to revert to what’s familiar and comfortable,” Schuster said. “We can’t lose the spirit of innovation.”

When sharing his thoughts about KGI alums, “Remember where you came from,” Schuster said. “This industry won’t grow without people. You can have all the AI you want. But at the end of the day, it will take people to make these things happen.”

He advises current students to engage in their learning and make the most out of their education—both inside and outside the classroom.

Upon retiring as President, Schuster plans to spend more time with his family and, after a short sabbatical, return to KGI as a faculty member.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do some innovative teaching using active learning,”

Schuster said. “One challenge is getting undergraduates to understand that this industry exists,” Schuster continued. “Most students have never heard of Amgen. We can’t educate the world but we can educate a little piece of it. We can show them the excitement that career opportunities within biotech offer.”

When it comes to his presidency, Schuster felt this was the right time to step down.

“As an institution, we are at a point where a change in leadership is necessary to come up with new perspectives,” Schuster said. “We have built an impressive foundation. Now it’s time for somebody else to build on that foundation.”

The search for KGI’s next president is underway.

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