The most relevant skills needed to begin an internship at a biotech company was the premise behind the Science Center’s Biotech Sprint, which brought together students from seven local schools, and mentors from six biotech companies – CIC Labs, Invisible Sentinel, Cabaletta Bio, Century Therapeutics, Integral Molecular, and Amicus Therapeutics – as part of FirstHand, our free, STEM education program for Philadelphia youth.
FirstHand Sprints, our intensive trainings open to all Philadelphia high school students, are co-developed and co-facilitated in connection with industry experts. Since Fall 2022, 174 hours of Sprints have been delivered, and have focused on Cybersecurity with the U.S. Navy, Biotechnology Basics, Human-Centered Design with Wodify, Designing for Sustainable Futures with Aula Future, and “BizCamp” which focuses on entrepreneurship with Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). In addition to industry-informed curricula, all participating students receive a $15/hour stipend.
Philadelphia has an amazing amount of biotech startups with a ton of jobs across the spectrum from high school grad to PhD and they need staffing at every single level. A lot of people are under the impression that you need a masters or undergrad degree, but there are a lot of great jobs available for all educational backgrounds, especially in Philly.
According to FirstHand program facilitator, Hanna Sherrill, a former molecular biology researcher who coordinated with mentors from the participating biotech companies – all of which are located right here at uCity Square – there were several factors at play when considering how to open the door to local opportunities for students. Sherrill notes, “Philadelphia has an amazing amount of biotech startups with a ton of jobs across the spectrum from high school grad to PhD and they need staffing at every single level. A lot of people are under the impression that you need a masters or undergrad degree, but there are a lot of great jobs available for all educational backgrounds, especially in Philly.”
The Science Center also offers Building an Understanding of Lab Basics (BULB), a free STEM workforce training program for adults that shares many of the same mentors as FirstHand. Both FirstHand and BULB work with Philadelphia life science companies to ensure the lessons are industry-relevant and that participants are prepared to enter the STEM workforce. On the other side of the equation, these relationships have inspired shifts in company hiring practices while also gaining content ideas from the companies.
The planning for the Sprint began with an invite from FirstHand to their regular, veteran mentors for a biotech brainstorming session, where they could offer their input. Among the questions asked: What should students leave knowing how to do? What things do they need to know to be successful in a short internship at a biotech company? What lab skills are most often used?
In designing the Sprint, the FirstHand team met several times with the mentor companies to put together content, review it for accuracy but also brevity, consider all the lab materials that would be needed, and perform “dry runs” with each mentor company to make sure STEM professionals were not only giving info to the students, but soliciting it in return and asking the right questions to gauge their understanding.
The successful execution of the program was aided by the support of Thermo Fisher Scientific with generous supply donations, and with funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s PAsmart grant.
Each day of the FirstHand Biotechnology Sprint kicked off with a slideshow providing context around the day’s lesson and why it was being taught. A daily ethical discussion component ranging from privacy and ownership rights surrounding your genetic information to the ethics behind future parents choosing the physical traits of their children, was also explored. At the end of the two weeks, FirstHand was able to match three students with companies who had the capacity to host them for internships this summer: two with Invisible Sentinel and one with Integral Molecular.
Having already placed students in internships with local employers like Cabaletta Bio, RightOn Education and PECO during previous sprints, the goal is to identify and place more internships in the future. Through FirstHand we continue to bring industry and education together to close the gap between family-sustaining careers in one of our region’s most thriving sectors, and Philadelphia residents.
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