As Los Angeles county moves towards becoming a national hub for bioscience, the need for more inclusivity in the bioscience workforce becomes more urgent. Recently, Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, in collaboration with Biocom Institute, Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), Wellnest, and the City of Los Angeles’ Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD) hosted the “MRT BioInnovation Lab @ GALA” for middle and high school students of color.
“There is a significant opportunity with bioscience to expand LA's innovation economy, nurture homegrown talent, and contribute to the long-term economic health of the community and City at-large,” said Councilmember Ridley-Thomas. "It is critical that communities of color are not only exposed to the opportunities in this growing field, but empowered to pursue higher education and careers. All it takes is that one exposure, that one moment of awe, to inspire one's future. We are confident that the BioInnovation Lab can be that catalyst, inspiring the next generation of scientists and innovators.”
Students of color disproportionately face a myriad of academic, socio-emotional and economic challenges that interfere with success. Current data shows that Black and Latinx students are more likely to experience homelessness, enter the foster care system, or have a parent who is incarcerated. These adverse childhood experiences deeply impact academic performance, leaving many resilient youth under-prepared for college. To address deep educational disparities and learning loss among our City’s most vulnerable students, the “MRT BioInnovation Lab @ GALA” was designed to empower young women at the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) and expose them to careers in bioscience.
"STEAM programs spark young peoples' curiosity and build their resilience--that type of engagement is exactly what is needed for our community as we collectively recover from the pandemic. HOLA is thrilled to be a partner in this vital work to continue investing in our youth, and we would like to thank Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas for leading the way,” said Tony Brown, CEO, (HOLA).
Committed to creating new career pathway opportunities in bioscience for Black and Latinx students, the MRT BioInnovation Lab gave priority placement to 61 Title 1 students, foster and homeless youth, and to students who had demonstrated learning loss and/or trauma during online learning. To meet these goals, the program provided students with an innovative curriculum that allowed them to learn about the foundation of biotechnology techniques, participate in a range of visual arts activities and receive hands-on learning with sea urchin fertilization, embryonic development, and crime scene forensics.
“Biocom California Institute is proud to support the “MRT BioInnovation Lab @ GALA” through programming that promotes bioscience education and career exposure for girls of color,” said Karmin Noar, Executive Director of Biocom California Institute. “Through hands-on experiences that connect students with professionals in the bioscience field, students are more likely to see their current and possible future selves in bioscience careers. Local professionals from Gilead Sciences are planning to offer real-life lessons and insights into the many career pathways in the biosciences.”
The program also encouraged artistic expression, promoted emotional wellness as well as mental health in collaboration with Wellnest, a leading provider of emotional health and wellness services for young adults in Los Angeles. Students participated in mindfulness activities and received supportive services to help them make emotionally healthy adjustments to daily challenges and the current COVID-19 crisis. As part of their participation, GALA students also took part in restorative healing circles and received individualized counseling that provided coping strategies and tools to deal with a range of issues such as trauma, anxiety, boredom and depression.
“We believe these young women have huge promise, and we are nurturing that with our integrative approach to wellness that includes coping and life skills, mentorship, and guidance. With the opportunity to attend the MRT BioInnovation Lab @ GALA, these young women will foster resilience and social connectedness, which ultimately leads to better lifetime outcomes,” said Lisa Hirsch Marin, COO of Wellnest.
“We are so excited about this true community collaboration to introduce our girls to the creativity and excitement of the bioscience field. Looking at the whole child by including social-emotional wellness and artistic expression as well as providing an opportunity for our alumni to give back to their community is truly an inspirational model. We could not be more grateful to Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas for spearheading this effort,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hicks, Principal, Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA).
Currently, the bioscience industry in the City of Los Angeles directly employs 21,508 people with annual average earnings of $82,399. The bioscience sector in Los Angeles is anticipated to continue to grow at the intersection of technology, health, and wellness - generating more than 200,000 jobs and over $43 Billion in economic activity. The combination of research, venture capital and public funding, educational opportunities, and depth of the skilled labor pool make Los Angeles well positioned to continue its emergence as a national bioscience hub. Yet, reports indicate Black and Latinx middle and high school students continue to lack awareness and exposure to these career opportunities. The MRT BioInnovation Lab closes this gap by equipping our City’s next generation of bioscience leaders with the opportunity and skills to thrive.