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Bulletin, Institute

Pantheon Biotechnology Educator of the Year Award Accompanied by Industry Call to Action

In inspiring remarks both honoring and by Elizabeth Schar – the 2017 Pantheon Biotechnology Educator of the Year recipient – life science industry leaders were invited to step up to the plate and become actively engaged in science education.  The award to Ms. Schar denoted how the appeal of a dedicated community advocate evolved into a valuable industry partnership that has impacted over 1,000 students in the heavily-Latino East Palo Alto Ravenswood district.

Almost a decade ago, troubled by the fact that Ravenswood middle school kids were entering high school with no prior science lab experience and failing, an impassioned Elizabeth Schar set up the Ravenswood Science Initiative to bring science labs to the district’s middle schools. With the help of the Institute, she enlisted Redwood-City-based OncoMed to help build a science program in one of the district schools, and thus began an eight-year partnership that has brought hands-on science modules, equipment, curriculum and teacher training to the Ronald McNair Middle School.

As noted by OncoMed CEO Paul Hastings in presenting the award to Ms. Schar, “Together with Elizabeth, not with money, but with human resources – because that’s all we had – we staffed the science labs each Friday at McNair Middle School. OncoMed scientist like my friend, Dr. Chris Muriel, stepped up and secured OncoMed volunteers to teach the teachers and teach the kids,” he added, “and we have been doing it now every Friday for eight years with Elizabeth and her impressive cast of volunteers.” Elizabeth later enlisted additional volunteers from Merck Palo Alto.

In accepting the award, Elizabeth claimed, “Paul and the entire OncoMed team helped us take a science program from non-existent to the model for the district. You helped us change a culture.” Because of the partnership, students at McNair now receive almost 80 minutes of lab time per week. However, students in the remaining district school still receive only 20 minutes of science per week, so there is more to be done.

Both American Laboratory Training (ALT) and VWR both stepped forward to close the gap a bit more: ALT by donating $25,000 to the Ravenswood School District; and VWR, through the donation of 5000 lab notebooks, a five-year supply for the entire district.

Both Schar and Hastings urged other industry leaders to “put their money where their mouths are” and commit to supporting science education. “So here is the call to action,” Elizabeth claimed, “Please join us. To change a culture, you have to be there.” Said Hastings, “Our obligation as biotech leaders [is] to help…. It’s just so easy folks, and it costs but the generosity of human capital.”

If you would like your organization and employees to get more involved in science education, please contact Lori Lindburg, President and CEO of the California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) at lori@califesciences.org.

For CLSA’s press release on the award, click here.

Click here to view an article on the award in the San Francisco Business Times.