San Diego community college gives biomanufacturing student a competitive edge

580 200 Amber Nelson

(Photo Credit: Organovo)

A few years ago Michael De Hoyos was working a string of dead-end jobs in fast food and delivery. Today he’s building a career as part of a cell culture team at Organovo, a leading edge biotechnology company that designs and creates human tissue. How did he make the leap? San Diego Miramar College and love.

Having reconnected with his high school sweetheart and ready to make a commitment, De Hoyos knew he needed a pathway to greater earning potential and a true career track before he could get married.

“I was in no economic position to start a family,” he said. After consulting family and friends, he enrolled in Miramar’s Applied Biotechnology certificate program. Programs like it are instrumental in developing a workforce that can meet the growing demand for biotech workers, while providing living wages and contributing to a region’s overall economic vitality.

Even before completing his coursework, De Hoyos was contributing to the biotech sector through a part-time job at a diagnostics company in their fill and finish department that gave him hands-on experience and helped deepen his resume.

He also took advantage of Miramar’s mock interview sessions that provided students a chance to road test their interview skills in conversation with biotech workers, managers and a few CEOs. In the process, he met Anna Waters, director of Research and Development Operations at Organovo, Inc., a San Diego company developing “bioprinting” technology for 3D printing human tissue.

De Hoyos had no way of knowing at the time what a pivotal role Waters would play in his future. He did, however, sign up for Organovo’s talent network to receive emails about employment opportunities and went on to complete his program.

About a month after he earned his certificate, De Hoyos saw a Lab Assistant position in the Organovo newsletter. He initially dismissed the posting, believing his chances of getting the job were “slim to none.” In a moment of impulse he changed his mind and applied for the job. It wasn’t just the call from Organovo that surprised him. It was the fact that he already knew the voice on the other end of the line. It was Waters.

“I had met Michael at a mock interview session at Miramar College and immediately recognized his name in the applicant pool for my position as he had made a really good first impression,” said Waters.

Of the 50 or so applications for the position, De Hoyos was the only candidate with a community college background who made it into the final four; the others all had bachelor’s degrees. In fact, he’s the first person hired into Organovo’s research and development department without a four-year degree.

“I have always been an advocate of hands-on lab classes for folks wanting to get into biotech without requiring a four-year science degree, whether they are just out of school or looking for a career change,” said Waters.

Her own work with community colleges demonstrates her commitment to inclusivity. She’s taught   biology and biotechnology part time and been involved in curriculum development for over 15 years at several community colleges. She’s also served on the advisory board for the Southern California Biotechnology Center and MiraCosta College’s new Biomanufacturing program

“The interview was extensive,” said De Hoyos. He met with the entire research and development operations team and spent three hours in a series of six 30-minutes interviews. This was his first experience interviewing for a professional, career-track position and his mock interview session made all the difference. “If it wasn’t for the program, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said.

Two weeks after the interview, he began working as a lab assistant at Organovo where he was in charge of the day-to-day operation of his lab.

“When researchers needed something, I was the person to go to,” he said. Just three months in to his tenure he began training with Organovo’s cell culture team. Before long, he applied to officially join the team, navigated another three-hour interview, and made his next career move.

Waters recognized De Hoyos as a motivated self-starter when she first met him at Miramar. Though many assume that anyone filling a lab position in research and development would need a four-year degree to be successful, Waters has another perspective.

“I thought he could continue with his education while expanding his on-the-job experience so as not to hit a ceiling in R&D or be more eligible to move into the manufacturing/operations side of the company where a four-year degree is not always required,” said Waters.

Her belief has paid off, for both De Hoyos and Organovo. In the first few months of 2017, De Hoyos celebrated his one-year anniversary at Organovo and married the woman of his dreams. “It’s been an honor working here and as the company grows, I hope I too can grow as a person and an employee.”


Amber Nelson

All stories by: Amber Nelson