Innovator Jo Wen Wu: Opening doors for science students

“I like knowing that I am helping students learn something that will help them find a job or start a future career. “

When it comes to encouraging students to pursue careers in biotechnology, Jo Wen Wu makes a science of it.

She sponsors mentorships and internships, runs weekend workshops and summer camps, and partners with industry experts to prepare students for high-paying careers.

The Fullerton College biology professor has an impressive list of awards. She was a finalist for the National Post-Secondary Teacher of the Year Award by the Association for Career and Technical Education, which honored her as the 2019 Post-Secondary Teacher of the Year for Region V. In 2017, she received the California Hayward Award for Excellence in Education and the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair Educator of the Year Award. She has also been nominated twice for Teacher of the Year at Fullerton College, where she has taught since 1990.

But the biggest reward for United Faculty North Orange County CCD member Wu comes from knowing that she opens doors for female ESL students and minority students who are under-represented in science.

“I like knowing that I am helping students learn something that will help them find a job or start a future career,” she says.

His own story resonates with the students. She moved to St. Charles, Missouri, Taiwan in second grade without knowing English. His father, a civil engineer, was already working there for a train design company. When he was blacklisted by the Chinese government for political activity, risking arrest if he returned home, it took the intervention of a US senator for Wu, his mother and brother to ask. political asylum and join him in America.

“There was no ESL program at my school,” she recalls. “They put me in special education because they could give me more individual attention.”

Wu, left, works with an intern student on a supply chain project.

Impressed with her math skills, teachers signed her up for independent study. She learned English on her own by reading all the children’s books in the local library. She read each story twice – once for the meaning of the words and once for the information. Once she mastered English, she entered science fairs and won college and high school awards.

Ernestine Long, one of Missouri’s first female PhD in chemistry, mentored Wu in high school and invited her to participate in summer research programs. Wu’s science fair awards and his work with Long led to full scholarships for his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Missouri and his doctorate in developmental and cellular biology from UC Irvine.

Wu’s main course is Cellular and Molecular Biology, where she emphasizes communication skills. “I have students who answer questions in every class – so they won’t be afraid during a presentation. I was very shy in college; when I was embarrassed and asked a question, it was terrifying.

Now, Wu is next, encouraging and mentoring students in the same way Long helped her succeed (see “How Jo Wen Wu encourages and mentors students” below).

She is modest about her accomplishments, but alumni are eager to share how she has impacted their lives. “Dr. Wu constantly encourages students to participate in teaching, research and biotechnology workshops to show us the different facets of science,” says Rosa Serrano. “The hands-on exposure helped me determine my interests. and prepared me for graduate studies in neuroscience. “

Sophia de Alba fondly remembers the weekend workshops. “She helped me get into a summer paid internship program for minority students. After transferring to UC San Diego and graduating in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, I am a scientist with several FDA products tested on real patients. Dr Wu has changed my life for the better. And I can’t thank her enough.


How Jo Wen Wu encourages and mentors students

  • She created the Orange County Biotech Education Partnership, which connected industry advisers to develop a biotechnology certificate and diploma pathway that is now offered at colleges in Fullerton, Irvine Valley, Santa Ana and Santiago Canyon. Students can earn certificates to become biofabrication technicians, lab assistants, and lab technicians while earning an associate degree in biotechnology.
  • She sponsors Saturday workshops led by her student assistants, who teach lab skills to high school students. She describes it as a “win-win”: College students learn to communicate and see themselves as leaders; high school students learn new skills.
  • She created a weekend supply chain internship program, where high school students work with college students to produce lab reagents for molecular biology lab experiments. As the Amgen Biotech Experience coordinator for Orange County and Riverside High Schools, she provides equipment and resources that many high school teachers lack. The program has grown from seven teachers in seven schools to 80 teachers in 43 schools serving more than 8,000 students per year (before the pandemic).
  • She started a summer science camp for middle and high school students. In addition to giving students hands-on experience in a university lab, younger students are mentored for a full year by its Fullerton students.


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