QWEST Internships Turn Into Full-Time Jobs for Berkeley Students at Bakar Labs Tenant Companies

By Erica Yab.

Congratulations to Dereck Ruiz, Hannah Chen, Dexter Lai, and Nathan Pellini, four UC Berkeley undergrads now considering job offers at Bakar Labs tenant companies following the first cycle of QWEST, a new state-funded biotech internship program!

Nathan Pellini (far right) with team members from Mekonos.

Intern stipends were fully paid by QWEST (which stands for “the QB3 Workforce Education for bioScience and bioTechnology program”), fueled by a one-time award to QB3 from the State of California. QWEST was designed to generate a pipeline of trained talent for the California bio-economy.

“This program is doing exactly what it was meant to – train UC students to join the biotech workforce!” says Noem Noiwangklang, the QWEST program director. “The companies have told me how helpful the students have been, and for months they’ve been asking me for more interns this summer.”

For their part, the students also appreciate the opportunity.

“The team was welcoming and supportive,” says Nathan Pellini, a Berkeley undergrad student majoring in Bioengineering. Nathan was placed with Mekonos, a company developing silicon-based delivery platform for gene and cell therapy. “They tasked me with a lot of impactful, hands-on projects, while still being super accommodating with my ongoing class schedule. I’m very excited to be continuing my work with them through the summer and beyond.” 

Mekonos appreciates their intern. “Nate has been an exceptional contributor to our team and it’s been amazing to see him grow during his internship with our company,” says Lewis Pietropaoli, an embedded systems engineer at Mekonos. “As our company is expanding and more internship opportunities arise, we would love to continue working with QWEST.” 

Dereck Ruiz (far right) with the Axent Biosciences team.

“QWEST opened up the doors to many different opportunities,” says Dereck Ruiz, a recent UC Berkeley graduate majoring in molecular and cellular biology and new hire at Axent Biosciences. “This program has allowed me to develop research skills, communication, and several laboratory techniques, all of which are useful for my career goals. Personally, QWEST has been one of the highlights at UC Berkeley.” 

Rocío Sampayo, co-founder and scientist at Axent Biosciences, reciprocates the feeling. “We had a fantastic experience with QWEST interns,” she says. “This program enables students to gain experience working in a dynamic startup environment and allows us to find exceptional talent.” 

Last summer, 12 interns were placed with 8 Bakar Labs tenants through QWEST. This year Noem anticipates placing 12-15 interns with 7-9 companies. “I’m so excited to build on last year’s success!” she says.

QWEST was originally limited to UC Berkeley undergrads but is now open to graduate students as well. Applications are taken on a rolling basis through the year. Interested in joining QWEST as an intern? Contact Noem at wanichayan@berkeley.edu.