Jared Cristobal headshot

KGI’s BSUITE Program Introduces Career Opportunities in Bioprocessing

This story was first published in the 2019-20 Annual Report.

KGI’s Bioprocessing Summer Undergraduate Internship Training and Education (BSUITE) two-week program this past summer introduced undergraduates to the technical and regulatory considerations for production of biopharmaceuticals through guest lectures and team-based projects. Sue Behrens, George B. and Joy Rathmann Professor in Bioprocessing and Director, Amgen Bioprocessing Center, organized this program to expose students to the educational and career opportunities in this emerging field.

For Jared Cristobal, who received his bachelors in Bioengineering from UC Riverside and entered KGI’s Master of Engineering in Biopharmaceutical Processing program this fall, this was his second summer attending BSUITE. He originally attended the program to learn more about the bioprocessing industry, as he felt that his undergraduate program catered primarily to medical device engineering.

“This program has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of career pathways that I can have,” Cristobal said. “I reached out to industry professionals to gain a more in-depth understanding of the industry, and hearing their advice really led me to see the benefits of doing a master’s program for bioprocessing.”

Catherine Kieu, majoring in Chemical Engineering with a focus in Biochemical Engineering at UC Riverside, also attended BSUITE to learn more about bioprocessing. She hopes to pursue a career in the medical field.

“It was amazing that I learned a lot about the development of vaccines, antibodies, and cell and gene therapies,” Kieu said. “Ultimately, my goal is to apply my engineering background to make a difference in medicine. I especially wanted to explore career options in bioprocessing. That’s why the BSUITE program was perfect for me.”

Both Kieu and Cristobal enjoyed the variety of guest speakers and learning about the current climate in regard to COVID-19. One spoke on testing mechanisms and the percentage of false positives and false negatives, while another spoke on new safety regulations that had been implemented in the labs.

In addition to guest lectures, the BSUITE program also involved a hands-on group project evaluating the process development, manufacturing, and regulatory aspects of a COVID-19 treatment. Kieu’s team focused on stem cell therapy, while Cristobal’s team looked into a vaccine.

“One thing that we noticed was the amount of purification that really had to go in after the upstream process,” Cristobal said. “Our group didn’t realize how much time and money downstream would take until we were piecing our flow map together. That was a huge breakthrough for us.”

After completing the BSUITE program, Kieu and Cristobal felt more informed about the wealth of career opportunities in the bioprocessing field.

“I knew there were many positions in process engineering, but I didn’t really know what these positions involved until this program,” Kieu said. “We learned about upstream and downstream processing, and I had not known that process engineering related to those two fields.”

Cristobal was surprised to learn just how specialized bioprocessing careers are.

“For example, someone might just focus on the first part of upstream,” Cristobal said.

Another goal of BSUITE is to equip students with professional and business knowledge.

“I appreciate how KGI faculty specifically went over the process on an Excel sheet of how you would calculate all the manufacturing costs for any biopharmaceutical products,” Kieu said.

Cristobal appreciated that BSUITE added a side project that involved making kombucha and ginger beer.

“That was a really fun, interactive thing for the students,” Cristobal said.

Despite the challenges of moving the 2020 program to an online format due to COVID-19, one benefit was that it opened up BSUITE to a diversity of students who might not have otherwise been able to attend.

“I like how they brought in students from different backgrounds across the U.S. and the world,” Kieu said. “I got a chance to meet my peers and collaborate with them on a team project. It was a really fun experience with them.”

Cristobal felt that despite the limitations, he was still able to bond with fellow attendees.

“I didn’t think my group would get as close as we did in two weeks, but by the end of it, we were on Google Hangouts for hours,” Cristobal said. “We were still making plans to hang out after the pandemic ends.”