An exceptional partnership: How CNSI’s Magnify Internship Program is helping UCLA students “Thrive”

Two groundbreaking programs have come together to strengthen California’s workforce development pipeline for UCLA students

By Nicole Wilkins

Last year funding from the state of California was provided to the California Institutes for Science & Innovation, including the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, known at CNSI, to create workforce development programs focused on providing necessary technical training to enhance the employment pipeline for California’s high-tech industries.

As part of the funding, CNSI’s Magnify incubator launched an internship program last fall to provide UCLA students hands-on experience with industry partners.

The Magnify incubator strives to enhance the vibrant culture of entrepreneurship at UCLA and the broader Los Angeles region. Magnify helps startups succeed by accelerating their access to facilities and creating market opportunities to translate discoveries for the public good.

The Magnify Internship Program addresses a shortfall in hiring options for high-tech companies needing skilled employees in select scientific areas.

“By working with early-stage companies through the Magnify Internship Program, students are not only learning valuable skills that California employers are seeking, but students who are successful in this program may be offered future employment opportunities as a result,” said Nikki Lin, Director of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization at the CNSI as well as director of the Magnify incubator.

Aiming High

To build a quality pipeline of student talent Magnify turned to Thrive Scholars.

Thrive Scholars is a national nonprofit program that provides high-achieving students of color from economically under-resourced communities the opportunities they need to thrive at top colleges and in meaningful careers.

The program offers six plus years of comprehensive support from high school to early career in a student’s life. Thrive Scholars program looks beyond graduation, using data to target what drives success in careers that lead to economic mobility.

This focus on workforce development and career skills made Thrive Scholars a natural partner for the Magnify Internship Program.

Carlin Hsueh, Director of STEM Corporate Partnerships at Thrive Scholars, was already familiar with the work of CNSI, having previously worked as a member of the Gimzewski Lab at UCLA, and volunteered in CNSI education programs throughout her academic career.

“My role at Thrive Scholars is to find STEM companies that can help students connect with the professional world and give them what they need to build into their road map to accomplish their professional goals,” said Hsueh. “With my already extensive experience at CNSI I wanted to explore what it could be to connect our Thrive students into the Magnify internship giving them a robust and thriving field for future career opportunities, especially in the early-stage environment.”

Not only did Hsueh have previous experience with CNSI programs but so did Thrive Scholars Alumni Career Coach, Erica Privott. Privott was previously a member of the CNSI education team and saw how the mission of both programs could easily align for Thrive Scholars.

“The Magnify internship does this in many ways, showing students that this could be you someday if you decide to pursue a PhD and academic pathway, a research pathway, or an industry pathway—what does that look like and mean for a future career,” said Privott.

Gil Travish, CEO and founder of ViBo Health—a start-up company working to transform healthcare by detecting disease earlier.

Exploring new career opportunities

That opportunity to explore and gain career insights was what drew UCLA student and Thrive Scholar, Susana Ocegueda, to the Magnify Internship Program.

For Ocegueda, a 4th year biology major and Los Angeles native, Thrive Scholars played a pivotal role in shaping her college journey.

“As a Thrive Scholar, I have received comprehensive academic, mentorship, and career support. Throughout my college years, I benefited from the guidance of multiple Thrive mentors, including both peer mentors and industry professionals. I was drawn to the Magnify Internship Program because I wanted to dive into the biotechnology field and learn more about the process behind startups.”

Ocegueda was matched with ViBo Health as part of the Magnify internship. ViBo Health is a start-up company that is working to transform healthcare by detecting disease earlier.

CEO and company founder, Gil Travish, is a seasoned entrepreneur and expert in technology commercialization and medical device development. Travish has founded previous start-up companies and is a Fellow of the American Physics Society. He also believes that mentoring students and entrepreneurs is key to the success of start-up culture.

“Our goal at ViBo Health is to transform healthcare to be truly personalized, precise, and predictive,” said Travish. “Having a dedicated team is key to our company’s growth and our interns at ViBo Health are an important part of that.”

Ocegueda was interested in UX design, which the process design teams use to create products that provide relevant experiences to users.

“As an aspiring UX designer, I had the chance to work on meaningful projects while also immersing myself in the workings of a startup,” said Ocegueda. “I felt a strong sense of cohesion and support from ViBo Health. Being an intern allows me to apply skills I’ve learned through my biology degree while also learning more about business and technology.”

For Travish, letting Ocegueda and other interns contribute to company projects is an important part of the experience.

“Think about what these interns are capable of and that they can do what you can’t, for example focus on a detailed project, and you will see the end result is something of value,” Travish said. “Early-stage companies are a great match for this type of experience.”

Learning a technical skillset

For Enrique Vidal, a first-generation student at UCLA and Thrive Scholar studying biochemistry, the chance to take advantage of opportunities in research was a big draw.

“I had been interested in industry-style work specifically in start-up companies and Magnify had a number of organizations looking for assistance,” said Vidal.

For Vidal, the time spent learning in a laboratory setting has been fulfilling in many ways, especially learning how to harvest and test cell viability, confluence, and cell count, which is something many undergraduate students do not have firsthand experience in.

“I am working at Pluto Immunotherapeutics under the mentorship of Amélie Montel-Hagen and Neema Adhami,” said Vidal. “The ability to see how essential every step of the laboratory work is for the goal of the company’s mission is inspiring and very informative.”

Pluto Immunotherapeutics engineers and generates off-the-shelf T-cell therapies from induced-pluripotent stem cells. For Amélie Montel-Hagen, Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Pluto Immunotherapeutics, the Magnify Internship Program gave an incredible opportunity for students to get experience in industry while still on campus.

“It is a unique occasion to get guidance and career support from start-up team members who in parallel get to be involved in mentorship,” Montel-Hagen said. “Being mostly at the research and development stage, we are testing a lot of different parameters and these experiments constitute mini projects that are ideal for students to get hands-on experience and receive supervision to achieve specific skills. Enrique’s motivation and interest were evident from the very beginning and his work was critical to determine the best conditions to use at specific stages in our platform.”

Plans to grow

Both Thrive Scholars and the Magnify Internship Program are in a growth phase. The CNSI’s workforce development program has expanded to include a summer capstone and this fall will launch a technical training program, giving more opportunities for students to get needed skills and career growth opportunities.

Thrive Scholars has also expanded nationally with 70 plus staff and an alumni network of approximately 1500 students. Eighty-five scholars graduated this year with the program growing in key hubs such as Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago.

This demonstrates a future that looks bright for not only UCLA students but also California companies who are hopeful they will find the talent and skillsets they need to help grow the state’s economy.

For student Susana Ocegueda, that is an exciting future for her and one she hopes will inspire other students.

“I truly cherished the opportunity to gain career-relevant experience while being part of a vibrant community,” Ocegueda said. “By putting in the effort, asking questions, being open to feedback, and not allowing fear to hold you back, you can propel yourself forward and seize similar opportunities with confidence.

Learn more about the CNSI’s workforce development programs at: https://cnsi.ucla.edu/education-workforce/

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