President's Corner

The New Bio-Community: OncoMed CEO Paul Hastings Discusses the Importance of Giving Back

Bio-Community, BayBio’s science education program that connects life science volunteers with Northern California classrooms, is launching a new website this week aimed at facilitating substantive connections between volunteers and K-14 students and educators.  At the heart of Bio-Community is a commitment to inspire student interest in science careers through meaningful interactions with life science professionals.   OncoMed Pharmaceuticals CEO Paul Hastings recently discussed why his company has taken an active role in Bio-Community by working with East Palo Alto’s McNair Middle School. For the last two years, OncoMed employees worked with teachers to develop and deliver close to 40 labs in their first two full years of science programming, and are returning this year to continue the effort.

BayBio: As the CEO of a biopharmaceutical company dedicated to improving cancer treatment, why have you gotten your employees involved in volunteering at an East Palo Alto middle school?

Paul Hastings: I learned through BayBio and Bio-Community that there were middle schools in our area that were without science labs, due to lack of public funding, and this bothered me. While we could not, as a private company, provide a lot of funding, we certainly could provide ourselves, help set up labs, and teach. We have to do something about our K-12 students falling behind national and global rankings in math and science. California and our education system once led the world in innovation and STEM education. We need to give back to bring that back for our future scientists.

BB: What types of activities are OncoMed employees involved in?

PH: Our employees have helped set up basic labs. We have lots of experience working on a shoestring. We applied it to McNair and set up financially accessible, cost-effective labs. We teach science and science lab courses. Our scientists love it. We have one scientist per classroom session throughout the school year. It’s so easy, maybe a few hours of prep and a couple of classroom hours for each scientist

BB: What feedback have you received from your employees? And from the community?

PH: We have one PhD scientist that remembers that he was “one of those kids” in “one of those schools.” He was fortunate to grab onto science and, well, now he’s a PhD. I wish more members of the biotech community would do more work like this, the grassroots stuff, the human capital volunteerism stuff. The McNair community has been so thankful and respectful of our time, and they show the most respect by taking the program, the learning, and soaking it up. They demonstrate that this is meaningful to them, and they seize the opportunity to educate. That’s what educators should do, but in these economically challenged times, sometimes it’s hard working in a public school setting with severely limited funding.

BB: What would you say to other biotech CEO’s about getting their employees involved in Bio-Community?

PH: This is a NO BRAINER! If all our colleagues from all over this country, from every walk of life, grew up like us, they will love giving back. And giving back a piece of their time and experience versus just a donation of money makes it so much more fulfilling and rewarding!