Pharma company pledges $10 million to Philly students to help diversify STEM careers

GlaxoSmithKline headquarters at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

GlaxoSmithKline headquarters at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline pledged Wednesday to donate $10 million over the next decade to help Black, Latino, and female students in Philadelphia pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The grant will be channeled through the newly-announced Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective, a collaboration between GSK, the School District of Philadelphia, local universities and museums, and dozens of nonprofits. The more than sixty organizations that are part of the collective will be able to apply for funding to pay for things like after-school programming and outreach.

“It will look very diverse,” said Farah Jimenez, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Education Fund, which is managing the effort. “It can be an after-school or out-of-school time programming that is doing something interesting with respect to coding. … It can be teacher professional development.”

A predecessor of GSK first opened in Philadelphia in 1830; the company now employs a thousand people at its U.S. corporate headquarters in the Navy Yard. At a press conference Wednesday morning, GSK’s president of U.S. pharmaceuticals Maya Martinez-Davis said the grant was partially a response to the inequities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic, and the protests following the killing of George Floyd.

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“Diversity and inclusion introduce new ideas and ways of thinking. They propel us forward,” Martinez-Davis said.

Black workers make up 12% of the United States’ workforce, but hold 5% of science and engineering jobs, according to the National Science Foundation. Likewise, Latino workers make up 16% of the country’s workforce, but hold 6% of those jobs.

Mariah Wright-Moses is planning on changing those statistics. The 16-year-old Black rising junior at String Theory Charter is passionate about biology and other life sciences.

“I just really like studying the way of life, ecosystems, animals, things like that,” said Wright-Moses.

Wright-Moses has been involved with programs designed to get more students of color into STEM from a young age. Because of them, she said, she’s now planning to study pre-med at the University of Pennsylvania or the University of California Los Angeles, before pursuing a career in neurosurgery. Her experience, Wright-Moses said, is proof of the value of the kinds of programs the new grant is meant to fund.

“I was able to get so many opportunities for STEM myself,” she said. “So I feel that other minority groups should be able to get those opportunities as well.”

Disclosure: WHYY, which runs youth media education programming, is part of the Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective.

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