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$50 Million Grant Funds New Graduate Program to Train Bioinformaticists


CLAREMONT, Calif.--Earlier this month the Claremont College Consortium here received a $50 million grant from the WM Keck Foundation that will be used to found the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences, the first graduate school dedicated to integrating natural science and engineering education. Bioinformatics will be one of the disciplines featured at the school, which will accept its first students in 1999. The institute has the distinctive mission of providing scientists who are schooled in the pragmatic needs of industry.

The seventh member of the consortium, the institute was chartered in March as the Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences. With the help of the grant, the second largest ever awarded by the foundation, it will leave the planning phase and immediately begin recruiting a world-class faculty, developing a model curriculum, building new state-of-the-art facilities, and forging partnerships with industry, officials said.

Plans are to build enrollment up to 125 students over a five-year period, according to officials. Most will be masters candidates, taught by a faculty of approximately 15 full-time-equivalent positions. Faculty will be recruited from among professional educators with interests in interdisciplinary research, industry collaboration, and innovative approaches to higher education. They will be supplemented by experts from industry, government, and academia filling short-term, adjunct, and other temporary or part-time positions. The institute will be housed in a new 85,000-square-foot building on a new 11-acre campus adjoining the property of the other Claremont Colleges.

Distinctive Competencies

The school will focus on building distinctive competencies in a few niche areas in the applied life sciences, including bioinformatics, biochemical process engineering, bioinstrumentation, biomaterials, medical devices, and biomechanics. These areas "will be complementary to one another and have strong cross-linkages with regard to research opportunities, industrial interests, and curricular requirements," according to school officials, who have set the goal to "build on the profound insights into the understanding of biological processes now emanating from government and corporate research laboratories."

The officials said instruction in management, ethics, economics, systems, and policy issues, plus substantial team-based project work, will be central to the school's curriculum, in order to give students "a full understanding of the climate and culture in which scientists and technologists in industry must function."

The first new member of the consortium in over 30 years, the institute was the brainchild of Henry Riggs, its president and the immediate past president of Harvey Mudd College, the consortium's undergraduate science school.

"As we enter what many are calling the Biotechnology Century, the potential of the life sciences to improve the human condition--our collective knowledge, our health, and our economic security--appears almost boundless," Riggs commented. "We expect to play a central role in translating that potential into practical applications by working with partners in industry and the nation's research laboratories to educate a uniquely qualified professional workforce. I am confident that this new institution has an unprecedented opportunity to make an important contribution in the years ahead."

"The formation of this institute is in part a response to the cry that the nation's universities are producing too many PhD scientists these days, and that the training they receive is not well-tuned to the needs of industry," Riggs continued. "Another lament often heard in higher education is that applications to medical schools are increasing at the same time that medical schools are calling for a reduction in enrollment. We aim to address both of these issues by recruiting talented students with undergraduate training in engineering or the sciences, particularly biology and other premed majors, and developing them into a new generation of bioengineers, with leading-edge knowledge and a practical orientation."

Robert Day, chairman and CEO of the WM Keck Foundation, commented, "It isn't often that the opportunity presents itself to participate in the creation of a new institution of higher education, let alone a graduate school that can be both a resource for and a guide to an emerging new industry with the potential to dramatically improve our quality of life and define the coming century. Clearly the time is right for an institution of this kind. As for the place, with more than a century of experience in developing first-rate educational institutions, and located in the heart of Southern California's burgeoning life sciences industry, there is arguably nowhere in America better suited to the founding of this school than the Claremont Consortium of Colleges."

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