Before she entered the Biotech Academy at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California, Michele Condon was a self-described out-of-control teenager.
“I thought when I graduated high school, I would go on MTV’s Real World and make a career out of that,” she says. “But getting into the Biotech Partners program changed my perspective. The program taught me about responsibility; about time management; about professionalism. It prepped me to jump into the actual real world, not a fantasy one.”
Today, Michele is pursing a successful career in biosciences with Bayer Health Care. “I know now that life is what you make it; the hard work that you put in does pay off,” she says. And she glows when she talks about her mother’s pride in her achievements. “My mom would take these walks through Berkeley and stop and tell random people ‘My children are biotechnologists!’”
The TK Foundation-funded Biotech Partners provides under-served youth aged 16-24 with personal, academic, and professional development experiences that increase participation in higher education and provide access to fulfilling science careers. Students train for technical positions in bioscience, a growing industry that offers well-paid jobs and real opportunities for career advancement and continued education.
Biotech Academy targets high school students from vulnerable communities who face very low statistical probabilities of academic and professional success due to poverty, pervasive ethnic and racial disparities in health and educational achievement and, in some cases, exposure to chronic violence.
At a time when one-third of California seniors drop out of high school, 100% of Biotech Academy seniors graduate. Equally impressively, 100% of Biotech Academy seniors attend college. And 100% of alumni seeking employment have been placed in career-track bioscience positions.
Amy Hansen, a retired Academy teacher, credits that success rate to the program’s emphasis on supporting students in their goals, and holding them accountable. “Students are capable of a lot more than what they are generally asked to do,” she explains. “The Biotech Academy program shows students they can do better, and, more importantly, it expects it of them.”
Biotech Partners alumnus Ahmed Akbar echoes that sentiment. “I reflect back to moments I had in the program where I was able to push myself, and really believe in myself. It’s about changing the way you think, and how you approach problems,” he says. “As soon as you say you can’t do something, you’re right. But as soon as you say you can do it, you’re also right.”
Another important aspect of the Biotech Academy program is the paid internships. Since its founding, the program has placed more than 1,000 students in job-training positions in which they have collectively earned more than $3.2 million.
Like 85% of Biotech Partners students, Cassandra Lui comes from a low-income family. The income she earns from her job-training internships has changed her life. “My life is stable now,” she says. “The program has taught me to wake up every morning, to never give up and to stay motivated.”
That stability is the foundation from which she has the freedom to dream. She plans to train as a nurse, and one day open a hospital in Vietnam, her father’s birthplace. “Look at us now,” she says. “And the students before us. They have dreams, and I have a dream. I want to reach my goals!”
Established in 1993 as part of a development agreement between Bayer HealthCare and the City of Berkeley, Biotech Partners’ work today involves more than 35 corporate, government, education and industry partners.
Biotech Partners’ Biotech Academy is a best practice model that constructs a strong platform from which students become engaged in life sciences, develop and build their self-confidence and are empowered to attain economic self-sufficiency. Learn more at biotechpartners.org.