In 1986, Ralph Kaan, 50, the bicultural son of a Native American mother and Dutch father, dropped out of the nine-to-five work world to spend nearly two decades caring for his disabled mother, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. To pay the bills, he took sporadic construction day jobs.
Until then, he’d handled healthcare-related tasks in the Navy and most recently had been employed as an ER technician and private duty nursing assistant. Last year, when his siblings took over his elderly mother’s care, Kaan sought to re-enter the workforce, only to find that the world wasn’t exactly waiting with open arms to offer him employment.
But, through his participation in On-Ramp to Biotechnology, the first module of a three-tier partnership
program between SFWorks and City College of San Francisco (CCSF), he soon found his way back to employment. This unique and highly successful program prepares low-income adults with limited scientific background for careers in bioscience.
Last year, Kaan completed an On-Ramp internship at the J. David Gladstone Institutes, and he did so well that he now has landed a part-time job at Gladstone as an assistant in one of its medical research labs. Meanwhile, he finished the program’s second module, CCSF’s Bridge-to-Biotech Program, and he’s currently pursuing its final and most ambitious module, CCSF’s biotechnology certificate program.
He couldn’t be happier.
“I would tell anyone who’s providing full-time care to an aged relative that you’re going to feel the need to get on with your life once your commitments are over,” says Kaan, whose 1970s military posts included hospital and field medical corpsman.
“If you’re an older adult in your 40s or 50s, the need will be even stronger,” he adds. “Finding a career track such as the On-Ramp to Biotechnology program, where you can get started right away with internships and hands-on skills, is a terrific option.”
His Gladstone supervisor, Fen-Biao Gao, PhD, an associate investigator at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease who studies neuronal development and neurological diseases, is equally enthusiastic. “Ralph is a very reliable employee, and his part-time status is perfect both for our lab and for Ralph’s busy schedule,” he explains.
“There are many advantages to hiring a mature employee who’s been through a strong training program such as On-Ramp to Biotechnology,” he adds. “These employees are typically more motivated to stay on the job longer, and they usually have great patience for the repetitive tasks that are so crucial for the well functioning of a biomedical research lab.”
The On-Ramp to Biotechnology Program, designed for those lacking recent or significant math or science school experience, prepares participants for entry-level positions in the life sciences through paid internships in biotech laboratories and professional development training.
The curriculum, customized with assistance from City College San Francisco faculty members, begins with a 10-week preparatory program covering life and laboratory science, with contextualized mathematics as well as professional development, including communication, resume writing, and professional work skills. Students must also complete an internship at either a research institution or company engaged in biosciences.
“It’s the real deal,” says Kaan, whose Gladstone duties include administrative support for a neurological research project that uses Drosophila fruit flies-ordering supplies, preparing a food source, and transferring the fly stock. “They’ll get you an internship so that you can see if biotech is something you really want to do.
“In the program, things happen very fast,” he adds. “I began my internship less than 5 months after joining up. My participation has accelerated the new career path that I’ve embarked on. Instead of just being an anonymous student taking classes and working at a job that might not be related to what I’m studying, I’ve got an academic path and
I’m working in the field that I’m pursuing academically. The On-Ramp to Biotechnology Program has been an enormous help.”
SFWorks is a nonprofit affiliate of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce whose mission is to build the self-sufficiency, aspirations and careers of low-income workers in San Francisco. For complete details, visit SFWorks , e-mail [email protected] or call (415) 359-7359.
The UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institutes is dedicated to the health and welfare of humankind through research into the causes and prevention of cardiovascular disease, HIV and AIDS, and Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. UCSF, which also hires through the On-Ramp to Biotechnology Program, is a leading university that consistently defines health care worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences, and providing complex patient care. For further information, visit Gladstone and UCSF .