Preparing For A Brighter Future

By J. David Curb, MD
Wednesday - July 13, 2005
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Nikko Baraquio, Vicki Shambaugh, Helen Petrovich,
Melissa Matsuura, J. David Curb, Jo Kerns, David
Bechtold and Wally Izumigawa are planning a
PHRI grant, aimed at bringing more high school
students into science careers

When I started out as a young physician many years ago, the last thing I ever anticipated was writing a “Business Roundtable” column. After all, doctors are not usually lumped in the same category as “businessmen.” Now that I head a medical research organization with more than 120 employees, there’s no doubt that I run a business.

There are a couple of lessons here. One is that you never know where your career is going to take you. Lesson No. 2, which is implied, is that you have to constantly learn new skills — whether it’s business management, word processing or public speaking. If you’re going to move forward in life you have to be adaptable, openminded and, once in a while, take a calculated risk.

These lessons apply not only to individuals, but to communities as well.

The recent opening of new research facilities at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Kaka‘ako signifies a whole new opportunity for our state in the area of life sciences. This is a chance to diversify our economy beyond tourism and the military. The creation of this new industry — based on intellectual property — will help keep our talented kids in Hawaii by providing well-paying and rewarding jobs.

To make this a reality we’ll need to both bring in top-notch researchers from the Mainland (which can include Hawaii expatriates) and train a new generation of students well-versed in the biological sciences, mathematics and computer technology. These youngsters don’t necessarily have to go directly to four-year colleges or plan on graduate or medical school to get jobs in our industry.

Even entry level in the industry can pay $35,000 to $45,000 with benefits. Compare this work to the employment generated by the hospitality industry and you can see why the growth of the life sciences in our state is critical in enabling workers to move up the socio-economic ladder.

To prepare us for this future we should emulate Mainland cities such as San Francisco and Phoenix, whose school districts have formed public/private partnerships with local biotech companies and educational institutions to create a learning environment that encourages an interest in the sciences.

Federal funds have established programs within the UH system to develop curricula and strategies to increase recruitment of students into STEM (science, tech engineering, math) courses. This includes a peer mentoring program at KCC that matches science-oriented college students with similarly inclined high school kids. In the same vein, my company, the Pacific Health Research Institute, is currently working with private industry, the Hawaii Life Sciences Council, Kamehameha Schools and others to submit a National Institutes of Health grant proposal that could bring additional funds into the community to supplement these efforts.

These activities are very positive, but we need to do more if we’re going to get serious about developing and sustaining a life sciences industry. For starters, high schools need to do a better job of identifying students who have potential aptitude in biotech. Businesses can also do more by providing tours of their facilities, internships and visits by researchers to high schools to give talks.

As Hawaii-born author and technologist Guy Kawasaki said in a speech at the UH Kipapa lecture series last year, if we’re going to create 21st century jobs in Hawaii we’re going to have to unabashedly invest in our educational system in a way we’ve never done before.

To this end, Mitch D’Olier and Randy Moore are working with other executives from the Business Roundtable (an organization of 50 CEOs around the state) in an effort to reinvent public education in Hawaii. The Business Roundtable is contributing money, but just as importantly, they are contributing their valuable time and expertise as managers in this reorganization process. This type of effort along with resources targeted at the sciences is critical if we are going to prepare our kids for a brighter future.

The service jobs of old Hawaii are not going to bring our population a better standard of living. Just as we as individuals need to continually reinvent ourselves, our community needs to do the same.

Next week: Gerry Majkut, senior vice president and general manager of Dick Pacific

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