Alumni Spotlight: Partners in love and learning
Two DCE alums share a passion for clinical research – and each other.
Darren and Sarah LaCour are a committed couple,
life partners and former college sweethearts pursuing
successful, ambitious careers in clinical research. And it
all started with Xavier — in more ways than one.
Both were already good friends, students working
toward bachelor's degrees at Xavier University in New
Orleans, when a mutual friend suggested to Sarah that
the pair would make a great couple.
“Darren and I were both biology majors and great
friends for the first three years of college,” said Sarah,
a UCI DCE graduate who is now an instructor in the
Clinical Trials program. “And the person that got us to
take a second look at each other was actually named
Xavier! How ironic is that?”
Needless to say, they took a second look and never
turned away, taking every step of their journey together.
Today they're happily married, raising toddlers Darren
and Dominic. The senior Darren, also a DCE graduate,
is clinical research manager for Medtronic, a global
leader in medical technology and services. Sarah's
a senior site management associate for worldwide
pharmaceutical company Allergan. Two successful
careers, both launched by UCI DCE.
“We started dating in 2006, got engaged in 2012 and
married in 2013,” Sarah said. “Here we are today, from
New Orleans to Orange County.” Their journey has
miles yet to go.
After getting his B.S. in Biology, Darren was
determined to pursue graduate studies but wasn't
entirely sure of his direction. He was attracted to
healthcare. He started his career as a chemist in a
pharmaceutical lab. Working with commercial
pharmaceuticals prompted his interest for R&D and a
deeper impact to healthcare, so he decided to pursue
a career in clinical research, fulfilling his love of science
by developing new medicines and devices and
bringing them to market.
Darren's next step was enrolling in the Clinical Trials:
Medical Device and Drug Development certificate
program at UCI Extension (now DCE) in fall of 2009.
When he discovered that units from the program could
be transferred to Northeastern University's M.S. program,
his path was clear.
“This was beyond helpful and motivating to know that
my master's was basically underway when I started
UCI coursework,” Darren said. “As for my career, I
can confidently say that while I earned a M.S. with a
concentration in regulatory affairs, my coursework
at UCI accounted for about 40% of
what I needed to launch my career.”
To round out his resume, Darren
also took DCE courses in project
management and business — training that serves him well at
Medtronic, where he manages a
matrix of functions including project
finances, monitoring, safety, data
management, and biostatistics. Darren
and his team also analyze and monitor
clinical data, producing technical and
At the start of his clinical research career,
Darren worked for a start-up medical
device company where he helped
design and execute bench
research, pre-clinical and
clinical studies. This position where he
wore many hats plus his
him to talk the same
language as many of
the cross functional
partners in R&D,
and Regulatory. “All
of these elements
because it wasn't the
for most people in clinical research,” he said.
Darren eventually convinced Sarah to sign up for
the same certificate program, but it wasn't exactly a
tough sell. While discussing various career opportunities,
Darren suggested she get her feet wet with a class or
two, see if it's a good fit.
“That's how my career in clinical trials and research
began,” Sarah said. “Before I knew it, after the first
class, I looked up and realized I completed the whole
Since the DCE program also has an articulation
agreement with Keck Graduate Institute, Sarah was
able to apply credits to Keck's Master of Bioscience
program. It was “a Godsend,” she said, allowing for a
lighter course load during her final year at Keck while
she was caring for their newborn son.
“It was no easy feat, being a full-time mom, and a new
mom at that, plus being a grad student,” she said.
“But I had an amazing support system both at home
and at school that helped get me through.”
Three years after getting her certificate, Sarah
graduated Keck with a MBS in Clinical and Regulatory
Affairs — and now she's come full circle. When
she's not managing clinical trials at Allergan, Sarah
teaches a DCE course, Post-Approval Compliance
Requirements for Pharmaceutical Products, helping
others along their career journey.
“UCI is the gift that keeps on giving,” she said. “Not only
did UCI help jump-start my career in clinical research and trials, it helped fulfill one of my goals that I've had
since I was a little girl by providing me with yet another
career opportunity as an instructor.”
The Division of Continuing Education has a handful
of certificate programs for those looking to pursue a
career in clinical research, including the Medical
Device and Drug Development option. Offering a path
to becoming a Certified Clinical Research Professional
(CCRP), the program teaches how to design and
implement effective clinical trials, with a deep dive into
the laws and regulations involved in bringing new
devices and drugs to market.
Darren was especially impressed by the instructors’ level
of expertise. “UCI's program is taught by practicing
professionals with real-world experience infused in the
lectures,” he said. “The instructors at UCI have provided
not only career guidance and practical advice, but
recommendation letters when I've needed them.
They've been a really helpful bunch.”
Far from offering dry subject matter, the program was
a revelation, opening up a new world of exciting
possibilities. Clinical research, he found, is the key to a
crucial global partnership between engineers, scientists,
and health care practitioners that can improve the
lives of millions.
“How exciting is that?” he said. “In college I only knew
the doctor pathway for someone wanting to work in
healthcare. It didn't dawn on me that surgeons have
to partner with medical device companies to bring
cutting-edge technology to patients.”
With an eye to the future, Darren's well-rounded DCE
training offers a straightforward pathway to the next
career step: running his own company, a Contract
Research Organization (CRO). It's a dream the
LaCours are currently pursuing full speed.
“We're now both in the same industry and are currently
in the process of getting Ology Universal Research
Solutions (OURS), a CRO that Darren started, up and
running,” Sarah said. “We have had an amazing ride
thus far and I am excited to see what else is in store
for my little family!”