Integrative learning course examines where science and entrepreneurship meet
Life Science Innovations, team-taught by a professor and alumnus, explores the drug development process and its ethical implications as well as the wide variety of career options in the biotechnology industry.
By: Meghan Kita
Tuesday, November 2, 2021 9:45 a.m.
Image by iStock
When Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Rita Chesterton and Sabrina Kamran ’13 came up with the idea for their team course, clinical trials, FDA review processes, and intellectual property rights life-saving drugs rarely made the headlines. It was in the summer of 2019 when Kamran contacted Chesterton about his collaboration. Kamran, a major in biology and a minor in Russian studies at Muhlenberg, had completed a doctorate. in Pharmacology and moved to Boston to work in business development for the biotech industry. She wanted to share this potential career path with current students, and Chesterton suggested co-teaching a class.
âI really wanted to find a way to collaborate on a course, but back then we hadn’t really thought about having courses with online components for undergraduates,â says Chesterton. âNow the students are used to this modality. “
The two co-teach Life Science Innovations, an integrative learning course, with Chesterton in person and Kamran on Zoom. Students also know the topic better than they would have been before the pandemic. It is therapeutically focused and divided into modules, explains Kamran: They start with how health systems around the world differ and how that might affect innovation before discussing the drug development process (including trials clinical and FDA review) and intellectual property issues. The last third of the course brings everything together while students evaluate case studies. Throughout, instructors discuss the ethical implications of innovation in therapeutics with students.
âThis industry isn’t all bad and it’s not all good,â Kamran says. âWe always think about that balance between, ‘Are the drug companies making too much money? But science is really expensive and they can put that money back into research and development. Students have more talking points in their arsenal and know more so they can critically assess what’s going on in the news.
The class is almost equally divided into Science and Business, with a few other disciplines as well. The two instructors hoped to attract this kind of mix, because bringing together different perspectives on the same problem is the hallmark of integrative learning at Muhlenberg. Even Chesterton and Kamran often have very different views on what they teach.
And Kamran, who currently works as the head of strategic alliances at Boston Children’s Hospital, is not the only former participant: she brought in some from her own network as guest speakers and the Office of Alumni Affairs put co-teachers in contact with others. By the end of the semester, students will have heard from four different alumni working somewhere on the continuum that connects science and entrepreneurship.
âBecause we have integrated so many alumni, I really hope it gets the students thinking about their future and realizing that there are a lot of possibilities out there,â says Chesterton. “I hope the course also broadly introduces the goal of integrative learning, which is to show how these different disciplines inform business decisions and scientific research.”