Never underestimate the power of an elementary school field trip. When Yesenia Leon visited Mintek with her sixth grade class, she felt a sense of wonder and excitement. “The facility was amazing. I was eleven years old, and I was blown away. I knew I wanted to work at a place like that when I grew up.”
But then she found out that everyone who worked there had a college degree. “I was devastated. I stopped dreaming about my future for a long time after that.”
Leon’s family immigrated to the United States after their lives were threatened in Mexico. While her father wanted the best for her, going to college was not considered a possibility for Yesenia or her siblings. “My dad worked really hard. But the cost of going to school was out of our reach. We grew up knowing that wasn’t an option.”
Once she graduated from high school her father encouraged her to attend vocational school, and Leon became a massage therapist. “I liked that job. I liked knowing I could change the way a person felt. But after a while, I started thinking about doing something else with my life.”
One day she and a friend were talking about going back to school, and they looked up MiraCosta online. “That’s when I saw their new Biotechnology Program, and I got so excited. I started looking into it.”
MiraCosta College is one of 15 community colleges in California taking part in a pilot program that offers bachelor's degrees to help students get jobs in high demand fields. In fall 2017 MiraCosta College welcomed its first cohort of junior-year students to the college’s bachelor’s program in biomanufacturing. The program prepares students to work in biological production, the unique segment of biotechnology where science thrives in partnership with quality and compliance. While existing biotechnology degree programs in California focus on research and the early stages of product development, MiraCosta College’s biomanufacturing degree focuses on the process involved in the later stages of biotech development and production.
With an estimated total cost of about $10,000 for the four-year degree, MiraCosta College’s biomanufacturing program lifts the burden of expensive tuition costs and makes college more accessible to students.
Fast-forward two years, and Leon has graduated from MiraCosta and gotten a job at Genentech, a global, ground-breaking pharmaceutical company—located in the same facility she toured in the sixth grade! “It’s a dream come true,” she says. “I love my job.”
Leon plans to keep learning and growing at Genentech, where she is a biotech process technician. “Now that I’m here, I want to learn everything.” She has big plans, too—she hopes to earn her Ph.D. in the future.
“When I was younger, I assumed college was out of reach, and that made me feel like I couldn’t make the choices for myself that I wanted to make. But now I know, that’s not true. You should always try to follow your dream.”