ABE Volunteer Program: Bringing Biotech Careers into the Classroom

Teacher Melissa Puopolo, Amgen volunteer Jessica Gastwirt, and several students during an ABE Volunteer Program classroom visit in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in early 2020.

“You can’t be it if you can’t see it!” This is the driving mission behind the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) Volunteer Program, launched in 2018 to help connect Amgen staff with ABE students. The 2020–21 school year will be the third year of the ABE Volunteer Program pilot. Last year we reached out to teachers and Amgen staff (volunteers) in the Greater Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Massachusetts areas. This year we’re branching out to an additional three U.S. sites, adding Washington DC, Tampa, and Rhode Island. The program brings Amgen staff into the classroom (in person or virtually) to share their pathways to their careers at Amgen with students. Virtual visits became a necessity last spring in the U.S. due to COVID-19, but they proved to be so popular that this year the Program Office is offering it as a standard option. Volunteers also have more options to choose from this year, as the Program Office has added other volunteer opportunities, including taking part in video interviews, reviewing draft ABE curricula, and becoming a professional mentor to an ABE teacher. Since November 30, we have had nearly 90 teachers and Amgen staff sign up for the program, with many already matched and planning their classroom visits.

Our hope is that this program can one day exist in all ABE program sites globally. Our pilot test has the goal of finding a process and online platform that is easily accessible and scalable to international sites. We’re doing our best to create a great future program for all.

Hear what participants have said about their experiences during the 2019/20 school year:

VOLUNTEERS

  • It was very gratifying for me to have a forum to share my experiences as an immigrant come to the US with only the love of my family and lots of grit.
  • The visit was fulfilling. The students were very engaged and had a bunch of questions. The teachers had done a great job in preparing them for our visit but most of all you could see that they really cared for the students.

TEACHERS

  • Students loved hearing about the personal stories and paths that each person took to get where they are based on their intent listening and reactions to each speaker.
  • My students had just covered some lessons on clinical trials and FDA approval, so having [our volunteer], who is involved in that for Amgen, was perfect. She was able to answer questions that I had only guessed at about the process in addition to sharing about her journey into science.

STUDENTS

  • [Our speaker] gave good insight on his career. He made me interested in doing it myself!
  • I liked how she was able to answer questions on a broad spectrum. She was very open to answer any question we had, whether it was about school or her job, or even our future career.
  • I learned a lot about how there are many aspects of a biotech company other than being a scientist. I can be part of.

There are many stories that have come out of the second year of the pilot. Read two, one each from a teacher and volunteer perspective.

If you're interested in learning more about how you can be involved in this program (if you are currently within the six program sites covered), please contact Kerry Ouellet at kouellet@edc.org.