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July 26, 2014, 5:10 am

Program prepares teens for biotech careers

To help prepare Philadelphia’s future workforce for careers in one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries, WorkReady Philadelphia launched Quest, a biotechnology-focused education program that will serve 25 high school juniors at Roxborough and Lincoln High Schools.

“When many kids choose healthcare careers that they’re interested in, often times they choose doctors or nurses,” said director of District 1199C Cheryl Feldman. “Biotechnology is a growing field with a lot more jobs opportunities. The students will not only get academic enrichment in a STEM curriculum, but they will also receive hands-on experience in the laboratory and project-based learning.

“This program will open students’ eyes to the plethora of opportunities outside of just the traditional healthcare careers. We have very bright, talented, kids attending public schools. With partnerships like this we can really capture their imagination and give them opportunities that they might not be able to receive anywhere else.”

Quest is designed to build 21st-century skills, provide work experiences, and connect students to college mentors through lab-based programming. District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund will provide academic support, Thomas Jefferson University will lead mentoring efforts, and the University City Science Center will host students for summer internships.  

“What made me want to participate in the biotech program was that I was always interested in learning about different sciences,” said Roxborough High student Kayla Hadley. “I thought that this program would give me more of an insight on careers in science. If I do decide to go into science as my career, I will already have different contacts of people who are already in the field.

“We already had one class so far in the biotech program and we’ve learn so much in that class. I’m looking forward to the endless experiences and opportunities I will receive from the classes in the future. I’m ready to learn and go to work.”

Students participating in the program will do their own primary research in the laboratory. At the end of the program, students will present the findings in their research. Students will also go on various field trips throughout the program including a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislative and policy makers, who are determining the policies that regulate much of the work done in the biotechnology field.

“I wanted to partake in this program because I want to be an oceanographer,” said Roxborough High student Malcolm Bundy. “I felt that this would be a good opportunity for me to get background information on the study of oceanography, so that when I attend college I will already be prepared for it.

“I’m already looking into colleges, so not only will I be able to gauge where I should go based on this program, but I also think it will look good on my college application. I will also be able to receive letters of recommendations from the people that I worked with. This program will help me prepare for my future.”

The program is being managed by nonprofit Philadelphia Academies, Inc., with the Philadelphia Youth Network overseeing implementation. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and The Philadelphia Foundation will provide the funding.

GSK and The Foundation collectively pledged $1 million last spring to advance career and economic opportunities for young Philadelphians. In addition to the Quest program, the funds enabled more than 500 young people to participate in WorkReady opportunities in summer 2012.

“Our vision is to eventually extend this program to other schools throughout the Philadelphia area,” said president of District 1199C Henry Nichols. “We are determined to track the outcome and the success of this program and really work to show that a program like this needs to be embedded in the school district.

“We understand where we want to go with this program, but we also know what it takes to get there. We want to continue to get the schools and the community involved with programs like this, because it’s really going to take everyone being on one accord to prepare our kids for their future.”