Mentoring Program Goes Virtual to Connect Students to Biotech

A screenshot from the virtual ABE Volunteers Initiative visit

Marco Cyrille has had many mentors in his life, but one especially stands out. When he was 19 years old attending Queens College CUNY, he met a college counselor named Helen T. Hendricks. Cyrille had been in a tough place as a newcomer to the United States from Haiti and was on his own, with his father recently passed and his mother disabled. Hendricks introduced Cyrille to a variety of activities that helped him achieve his goals. “Helen enabled me to keep my dreams alive in various ways,” he recalls. “She provided means for concrete steps towards realization.”

Now a clinical research medical director at Amgen, Cyrille is paying it forward—mentoring others through the Amgen Volunteers Initiative. He recently made a virtual visit to ABE teacher Wendy Wooten’s class at Reseda Charter High School in the Los Angeles area. “Mentorship is important in every class because we are working to make our students college and career ready,” Wooten says. “Students need to know what possible careers are out there and what the professionals in those careers do so they can identify a career for which they would be passionate.” Hearing Cyrille’s story, Wooten says, helped her students understand the actions and support that assisted him in his journey to reach his current position.

Indeed, the ABE Volunteers Initiative* connects various staff members directly with ABE teachers and students, so students can understand the different opportunities in biotechnology and medicine that extend beyond the traditional paths. The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped that work—the program has now gone virtual to facilitate meet-ups with ABE students while learning from home.

“There are so many amazing and inspirational industry professionals in a wide variety of different careers that work in biotechnology,” Wooten says. “And having your students learn about their educational and career journeys will assist the students in considering potential careers they may want to pursue and prepare them to make better decisions and seek out important opportunities to maximize their own educational and career journeys.”

In hearing about Cyrille’s path to becoming a medical doctor and then going to work in the biotech industry, Wooten’s students could see, she says, how a career can change and evolve. “So often we have high school students say they want to be a doctor in the future, even though they are not especially familiar with what the career entails,” Wooten says. Hearing Cyrille explain how he helped millions of patients through his work at Amgen changed their perspective.

“I could sense the engagement of the students by the nature of their questions, which were quite insightful,” Cyrille says. “It became obvious to me that some were seriously thinking of concrete steps they need to take as they forge their future. At this stage of their lives, a career may seem distant. It was clear that some realize this future is taking shape by the steps they are taking in the present and their immediate future. This was notable.”

Cyrille says that he most wanted students to take away from his talk the importance of forging your own destiny. “I guess as others have said before, the best way to predict the future is to make it, to create it,” he says. “It is also important to realize that life is a process and, as such, one has to remain open as we integrate the lessons learned during our journey through life.”

Having the virtual meet-up was a great complement to the distance learning Wooten has been leading with her classes. “The worst part about distance learning for our science classes and biomedical science pathway is that we are not able to do hands-on labs and research projects,” she says. “It is just not the same when you use a mouse or your finger to move things around on a computer screen.” But to hear from people like Cyrille working in the biotech industry, she says, is an enriching experience they will not soon forget.

*The ABE Volunteers Initiative was piloted in ABE schools in the Greater Los Angeles Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Massachusetts from 2019–2020. For the 2020–2021 academic year, we aim to expand the program to additional sites in the US, with the eventual goal of supporting interested teachers across the ABE program with Amgen staff volunteers.