The Science Empowerment Initiative (SEI) brings together regional groups of life science companies who are committed to inspiring and developing the next generation of science professionals. The SEI seeks to grow the pool of life science companies participating in industry-academic collaborations that will inspire more underrepresented students to pursue STEM careers. By co-developing talent with neighboring schools, such partnerships both create access to the rewarding careers in the industry and help diversify the industry’s talent pipeline.

The first SEI, in South San Francisco (SSF), targets students who attend school just miles away from the regional birthplace of biotech. It is a district in need, with large numbers of low-income students and English language learners.

SEI and Helix Cup

Recognizing that students in their own backyard might never be exposed to nor prepared for rewarding careers in the life science industry, eight SSF companies stepped forward to join the Genentech-led Helix Cup, part of the company’s K-12 Futurelab partnership with SSF Unified School District (SSFUSD) that has generated a 73% increase in student interest in science. This annual competition provides 8th-grade students the opportunity to apply standards-aligned curriculum in a fun, creative format while designing solutions to potential barriers, such as delivering medicines to remote areas. The SEI pilot drew 60 volunteers from Allogene, Merck, Myokardia, Nkarta, RAPT, Sutro Biopharma, Theravance, and Verily, who served as coaches in the competition that guides middle school student teams through real-world science challenges.

In Spring of 2021, after a year of pandemic-induced remote learning, over 60 volunteers from 11 companies – AbbVie, Amgen, Ardelynx, Bristol Myers Squibb, Encoded, Kezar Bio, Merck, Necktar, Rapt, Sutro Biopharma, and Theravance – joined Genentech volunteers as online coaches, helping SSF 8th graders continue building confidence in their ability to do science through a virtual Helix Cup Challenge.

SEI and Closing the Digital Divide

In Summer of 2020, well into the COVID-pandemic and school campus closures, SSFUSD approached the SEI to help students and teachers transition to distance learning.  The campaign raised almost $650K, including a generous matching grant and donation of half a million by Genentech, and contributions from Cytomx, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS (JLABS), Principia, Alexandria Real Estate, Bristol Myers Squibb, Nkarta, and Sutro Biopharma.

Supported by: