Imagination, inspiration and intention — they’ve been guideposts along Vertex’s journey to build a thriving Global STEAM Education program. Today, the commitment to delivering STEAM programs to underrepresented students — and to developing the next generation of scientists — has never been stronger.
“It’s really exciting to see our program evolving,” said Melodie Knowlton, Senior Director of STEAM Education. “Similar to our research strategy, our vision is aligned globally but with local specificity and implementation.” Melodie leads the Global STEAM Education function, which is sponsored by Vertex’s Chief Scientific Officer David Altshuler and supported by each Research Site Head — Paul Negulescu in San Diego, Mark Bunnage in Boston and David Price in Oxford, U.K. In 2019, the team established a global strategy that encompasses four core principles:
Inspire the next generation to love science and appreciate its positive influence on society
Support young women and underrepresented students as they pursue and succeed in STEAM fields
Maximize community impact by partnering with local leaders, educators and institutions to advance science education
Provide Vertex employees opportunities to share their experiences and passion through mentoring and teaching
Three Research Sites, Three Learning Labs
Over the past seven years, Vertex has opened three Learning Labs — Boston in 2014, San Diego in 2018 and Oxford this February — and they’re at the heart of the Global STEAM Education program. Equipped with state-of-the-art lab and classroom space, each Learning Lab provides a dedicated space for hands-on experiments, offers a venue for students to learn about STEAM-related careers and functions as a hub for STEAM activities within the surrounding community.
“These three sites represent our continued commitment to STEAM education through targeted investment,” Melodie said. “Given that we are reaching students who are generally under-represented in STEAM careers, we’re intentionally working to make space for them in the field. Inviting them inside and giving them experiences — at the bench and with our employees — really helps them develop the capital and skills needed to enter the field.”
Pandemic Prompts Focus on the Basics
In March 2020, Vertex’s ability to offer STEAM education programming was tested as the pandemic surged worldwide, and nearly all Vertexians began working remotely. The Global STEAM Education team had to immediately transition programs to virtual instruction and figure out how re-imagine the upcoming summer internship program so it could deliver the same high-quality, hands-on experience that’s been offered in previous summers.
An unexpected “silver lining” of the pandemic was the opportunity for Vertexians to focus on the essence of their mission — empowering students, cultivating mentors, fostering personal connections and opening doors of possibility. This “back-to-basics” approach resulted in a rich, meaningful summer program for the students, STEAM educators and Vertex volunteers.
"Last year's summer program, for us, was one of the brightest spots when it came to 2020,” Melodie remembered. “I think about the last day — the kids had been with us for six weeks, 35 hours a week — and when we said, ‘good-bye and you can hang up,’ they said, ‘we don’t want to hang up."
On-site student visits to the Learning Labs remain on pause and other STEAM programming will continue to operate virtually for the time being.
2021 Programming and Beyond
The Global STEAM Education team continues to build on past successes and develop new ways to harness the power of STEAM to make a difference in the lives of young people. Earlier this Spring, the team debuted a new program, Bridge-to-STEM Careers, which offers a paid after-school STEM experience for 35 high school juniors and seniors in Boston and San Diego. And this summer marked a big milestone for the High School Summer Internship program — 10 years in Boston and the launch of the San Diego and Oxford programs. More than 80 students from all three communities joined Vertex as paid interns, where they combined lab experiences with opportunities to learn about scientific discoveries, interact with Vertexians and gain a mentor from one of Vertex’s employee-led groups known as Employee Resource Networks. Hear from some of our Bridge-to-STEM Careers interns here:
“We are as intentional about STEAM as we are about making medicines because we know we can have a transformative impact,” Melodie said. “It’s exciting to think about all the possible outcomes — for young people, for our employees who work with them and for the broader community.” As Vertex continues to deliver unique, innovative and educational STEAM programming, it’s clear that this work is not viewed as an add-on, but rather as a vital investment in the future of science and technology.