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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: Partners in love and learning

Summer 2017

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 progress reports.

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 education prepared him to talk the same language as many of the cross functional partners in R&D, Marketing, Quality, Ops, Manufacturing, and Regulatory. “All of these elements fast-tracked me into management because it wasn't the traditional background 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 program.”

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!”