Investing in Future Scientists: ABE Program’s Reach and Impact Grows

Photo of Rebecca Lewis

EDC Senior Project Director Rebecca Lewis leads initiatives that get students excited about STEM, while giving them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in and beyond school. As the Director of the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) Program Office at EDC, Rebecca works closely with the Amgen Foundation to empower teachers to bring advanced biotechnology into their classrooms and inspire students to pursue careers in biotech and other science disciplines. In this post, Rebecca describes the driving force behind Amgen’s latest investment in ABE and reflects on the program’s powerful impact on students and teachers around the world.

Our country faces a crisis in science education and literacy. Far too few youth graduate from U.S. high schools with a strong foundation of science skills and knowledge. In 2016, only 36% of ACT-tested students met the Science College Readiness Benchmarks. In 2015, only 22% of Grade 12 science students had National Assessment of Educational Progress scores at or above Proficient. Science achievement gaps, stemming from a lack of opportunity gaps, are a pervasive and pernicious problem for our students, particularly those from low-income communities. If we want to grow a strong next generation of science-savvy citizens, innovators, and inventors, we need to act fast.

The Amgen Foundation’s Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) program tackles this challenge head-on. ABE’s hands-on molecular biology curriculum, and the research-grade equipment and supplies that the program loans to schools, enable students to explore some of the same methods used to create medicines to address and alleviate life-threatening and chronic illnesses. ABE also provides teachers with intensive professional development that transforms how they teach science. As a result, a 2016 study found that ABE students show significant gains in biotech learning and in their self-confidence in doing challenging science and biotechnology experiments.

To date, the Amgen Foundation has committed over $25 million to engaging 600,000 high school students across multiple U.S. states, Puerto Rico, U.K., and Ireland in the ABE program’s real-world science learning. In 2016-2017 alone, ABE reached more than 80,000 students—building their scientific literacy, promoting their STEM proficiency, and sparking their interest in future careers. It has been my honor to partner with the Foundation in this important and exciting work.

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For four years, EDC has led the ABE Program Office. As the director of the Program Office, I’ve enjoyed working closely with the Amgen Foundation to help them advance the goals of their trailblazing program. Now there’s more great work on the horizon. On August 24th, the Amgen Foundation announced that it is launching a bold new $10.5 million expansion of the ABE program that will open the doors to a wide range of future science careers for even more students around the world.  

Over the next three years, EDC will continue to lead the ABE Program Office, partnering with the Foundation as it seeks to ramp up its efforts to reach even more schools that serve students from low-income communities. Currently, ~45% of the schools that participate in ABE serve students of low socio-economic status (SES). The next phase of the work will focus on increasing our reach to such schools and closing the science opportunity and achievement gaps that plague our country and beyond. The ABE program will also expand to reach students in more countries around the world.                                            

As a former teacher who often worked in schools with limited resources, my work with the ABE program is deeply satisfying. After four years, I still look forward to my visits to ABE classrooms. When I walk in the door, I meet students and teachers who are enthusiastically engaged in scientific discovery. Students’ high level of excitement and involvement in investigations is especially great to see—even notoriously blasé teenagers forget to act bored and cool.

With its research, Amgen makes medical breakthroughs that improve patient lives. With the ABE program, Amgen makes a world-class science education available to students—many of whom lack opportunities to engage in rigorous science learning. . A teacher notes that each time she rolls out ABE for her biology students, she sees a total transformation in their excitement about science. “It’s phenomenal,” she says. “Almost everything else we teach in school is a history lesson. The Amgen Biotech Experience program is modern, current, and cutting edge. Micropipettes, gel electrophoresis—students love it. They’re exposed to a career field they can really get interested in.” The program inspired one of the teacher’s more troubled students who, before the lab, was failing almost every subject. “The other day, she told me she wants to be a nurse,” the teacher says with pride. “That’s an impact that you cannot measure.”

To learn more about ABE or, if you’re a teacher, to sign up to attend a professional development institute and get involved, visit the Amgen Biotech Experience website.


Friday, September 8, 2017 - 8:15am