In this series of alumni profiles, we highlight graduates of USC’s master of science program in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Our accomplished alumni have pursued many different paths—ranging from a biotech industry job to a teaching career, and from a PhD program to professional degrees in medicine, dentistry, and law. As the 41 master’s students in the Class of 2022 prepare for graduation, we look forward to welcoming them into our vibrant, diverse, and growing community of alumni. Congratulations Class of 2022, and Fight On!
–Francesca Mariani, master’s program director
As an LAUSD biotechnology instructor at Roosevelt High School, Rekha Prakash works two short miles from USC’s Health Sciences Campus, where she earned her master of science degree in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.
“I teach biomedical sciences,” she said. “It’s not a regular biology class. This is totally career technical education. And when they finish it, they’re ready for college or a career.”
Prakash originally planned to become a physician or physician’s assistant, but discovered a passion for teaching while serving as an instructor in a cadaver lab at Sri Ramachandra University in Chennai, India, where she earned a master’s degree in medical anatomy.
In 2011, Prakash began her career by volunteering at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in the laboratory of Preet Chaudhary, who is a Professor of Medicine, the Bloom Family Chair in Lymphoma Research, Chief of the Nohl Division of Hematology and Center for Blood Diseases, and Director for Bone Marrow Transplant. She contributed to papers about cancer immunotherapy in the journals Scientific Reports in 2019 and 2018 and Blood in 2016, while earning her master of science degree in USC’s stem cell biology and regenerative medicine program.
After graduating, she accepted a job as a research associate at Cedars-Sinai. Before long, she was offered a position as a biotechnology instructor for LAUSD at Reseda High School, and she leapt at the opportunity to return to teaching. Currently, she works as a biotechnology instructor at Roosevelt High School, serving the Boyle Heights community.
Prakash teaches an innovative curriculum that not only imparts “hard skills” such as laboratory techniques and scientific reasoning, but also builds “soft skills” needed for interviewing and applying to jobs. To give the students hands-on experience, the curriculum integrates internships and invites educational partners from biotech companies and universities.
In 2020, Prakash partnered with her alma mater to launch the USC Stem Cell Scholars Program, sponsored by the Amgen Foundation. Through the program, 10 local high school juniors, nominated by LAUSD teachers, received one-on-one mentorship from USC graduate students and postdocs, who kicked off the program at the USC’s stem cell research center, and then adapted it to an online format due to the pandemic. In 2021–2022, her biotechnology program partnered with CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research and Therapy at Pasadena City College, providing her students an extensive hands-on stem cell experience.
More recently, Prakash has stepped into some educational leadership roles as well as a member of the instructional leadership team at Roosevelt High School, and as a curriculum developer with LAUSD career technical biotechnology courses. She also serves as a teacher leader in Roosevelt’s medical and health sciences pathway, along with peer mentoring.
She’s also an advisor for the Roosevelt chapter of California Health Occupation Students of America (Cal-HOSA), the state-wide student club that prepares health care student leadership. Recently, she was awarded the 2021 Community Protector Hero in Education and 2022 Sal Castro Award for her civic engagement, youth leadership, education around social justice, and advocacy for equity and access to college and career pathways.
“I love being with the students, especially,” said Prakash, who is also the mother of two children. “Some of the LA unified students don’t know anything about biotechnology or research, and I feel a satisfaction when these kids come back and say, ‘Yes, Ms., I got into UC Berkeley or UC Santa Cruz.’ And some of them are really successful as physician assistants, speech therapists, and what not. So I’m so glad to nurture that passion within these kids.”