New program puts biotech in hands of Philly high schoolers

    When it comes to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, the American education system is playing catch up. A new program trying to help Philadelphia high schoolers compete in those areas kicks off next month.

    Twenty-five juniors from Lincoln and Roxborough high schools will get hands-on training at Thomas Jefferson University — test driving a career in biotechnology for more than six months.

    “They’re going to see all the opportunities — all the jobs — that are available with this kind of knowledge,” said Shirley Greening, chair of the bioscience technologies department at Jefferson.

    Greening says the new program will be heavy on lab work and concludes with a paid summer internship.

    “It’s one thing to take a lecture class and learn about biotechnology,” Greening said. “It’s quite another thing to go into the laboratory and actually run an experiment on an organism.”

    A handful of local institutions are teaming up on the biotech program, which they’re calling Quest.

    Healthcare giant GlaxoSmithKline is spending $750,000 on the program. (Update: The investment also funded 500 internships last summer. More info here.)

    Mary Linda Andrews, the director of community partnerships at GSK, says the company has a “vested interest” in filling the STEM pipeline.

    “Because it takes our company an average of about 15 years and about $1 billion to get just one drug to the market,” explained Andrews. “So we really have to ensure that we have a qualified work force in order to enhance the future of our company and our industry.”

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