“Tell me something that you enjoy,” Violet Votin, Clinical Research Scientist at Machaon Diagnostics asked the 1st period biology class at Galileo High School on Friday, March 22. “I like the satisfaction of solving problems,” replied the 9th grader. Votin suggested that a career in bioscience might be an interesting career for the avid problem solver. This conversation is just one of hundreds of interactions between bioscience professionals and students during Biotech Week, a collaboration between the Bay Area Bioscience Education Community (BABEC), the California Life Science Institute (CLSI), and City College of San Francisco’s (CCSF’S) Biotechnology Program.
For the third year in a row, BABEC coordinated the Biotech Week, a week of robust work-based learning science modules, in which teachers and students learned principles of biotechnology and performed foundational laboratory techniques. Approximately 1500 biology and chemistry students and 15 science teachers from five SFUSD high schools participated. Following the hands-on lab activities, students learned from CCSF faculty members how they could continue to explore their academic and career interests in biotechnology at City College through dual enrollment courses, the Bridge to Biotech Program and the Bioscience Internship Program.
CLSI provided an inspirational career element to the modules by bringing in industry experts to discuss their career pathways and current positions. Thirty-six professionals from the following companies and organizations participated: Amgen, Amunix, Bayer Healthcare, BioAmp Diagnostics, BioTek Instruments, DCVC Bio, FitBiomics, The Gladstone Institutes, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, JBEI, JS Hongo Consulting, Machaon Diagnostics, Siolta Therapeutics, Stanford University, Twist Bioscience, UCSF, Veracyte and VeriSIM Life.
Meeting professionals who looked like them was extremely relevant in helping to spark an interest in science among the diverse student population. CLSI brought in diverse speakers from a wide range of careers and career levels, including Evelyn Hernandez, a first-generation Latina research scientist and Ph.D. candidate at UCSF, who spoke to several of the science classes. Aware of the underrepresented populations in STEM careers, Evelyn has devoted her volunteer time with science education outreach programs over the years. Reflecting on what inspired her to consider a career in life sciences, Hernandez stated: “It was important for me to see someone who looked like me. Otherwise, I couldn’t see myself as a scientist.”
“Wow! I learned a lot from her,” exclaimed a 12th grader from Lincoln High School. ”I learned that no matter if we are Latinos or if we are from other races, we can do many amazing things to be successful in our lives. I’m surprised because I know that to take a PhD, we have to take a a Master’s Degree first, but she is doing her PhD now, and that makes me feel that I can do it, too.”
Sparking interest in science is the first step in building a diverse workforce in biotech. The success of Biotech Week clearly demonstrates that more students will become interested in STEM careers if given the opportunity. Surveyed after the Biotech Week, 64% of the students felt they had a better understanding of science after listening to their respective speakers. Seventy-three percent of students said they had a better understanding of the careers in science after listening to the speaker, and 41% indicated that they could actually be a scientist.
“Thank you so much for this week!” stated a 12th grader from Galileo High School. “I learned a lot of interesting things. Personally, I was not really interested in science, but this week made me feel like I should give it a try.” For more information about BABEC Biotech Week, contact Kristen Wolslegel at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about partnering with CLSI on industry engagement, contact Lori Lindburg at email@example.com.