On January 27, 2017, The Graduate Association of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania hosted its annual Beta Day workshop. iPraxis organized local middle school students to go to Penn to learn about exciting bioengineering research and participate in several hands-on activities. Many thanks to all the incredible workshop leaders and volunteers for making the day such a wonderful success!
For photos of BETA Day check out the GABE Facebook Page.
From: Chanel Hill Tribune Staff Writer • Nov 22, 2016
Offering an experience that connects students to the community, challenge them in academics, have them evolve as a person through various programs and prepare them for their future is what students find most appealing about Cook-Wissahickon School.
“We have really good teachers at this school,” said eighth-grader Tay Herbert. “They really care about us and they challenge us — both academically and personally. If we need help with something they are right there willing to help. As a student, it’s always good to have a teacher that really cares about you and wants to help take you to the next level.”
The Pre-K to eighth grade school with nearly 455 students has been known to turn its students into leaders that will prepare them for high school, college and a future career. Located at 201 E. Salaignac St., Cook-Wissahickon’s mission is to develop a positive learning community in which students achieve academic and personal success.
“We want our students to have the opportunity to go to the high school of their choice and be successful there,” said second-year principal Michael Lowe. “We’ve been trying to introduce programs and materials to give students the opportunity to find themselves. The new computer teacher is teaching the middle school students coding. We’re working on a robotics program. We just recently started meeting with Tech Girls out of Roxborough High, so that our girls can do coding.
“We started affinity groups, where middle school students twice a week participate in an activity that they are interested in,” he added. “This includes afternoon bucket drumming, hip-hop and line dancing, ceramics studio, journalism, drama and flag football. As far as academics, we’re a part of the district blended learning initiative, so the teachers are able to work with kids in a small group, but then the kids can also practice skills independently. “We were one of the schools picked to be a WHYY media lab. Students will be able to take what they are learning in the classroom and begin to create documentaries or small video pieces. We don’t want to just emphasize the academics, but also the awareness in the community and the world. Whether it’s through a cancer fundraiser, food drive or a research project, our students need to be engaged in what’s going on around them. We want our students to create their own path of success.”
Middle school students are being exposed to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) through a partnership with iPraxis, which is integrated into the curriculum through projects, seminars and trips. Through this partnership, students learn from volunteers who have a background in science including adults who are retired and students who are seeking their master’s or Ph.D. degree.
A group of scienteers (science volunteers) visits the school every Thursday to mentor students with their science class for a 12-week period to help assist them with their science fair project. Students apply the scientific method as they select and investigate important questions. Through the interaction with the scienteers, students learn goal-setting, teamwork, research design, personal organization, presentation skills and how to build positive relationships.
“My scienteer, Malik Daniells, is helping me with my experiment,” said eighth-grader Justin Reynolds. “My topic will be on which can freeze faster — soda or juice? We were just watching a video on an experiment where if you freeze soda for a certain amount of time and shake it or release some pressure the result will be it will instantly freeze. We wanted to see which would freeze faster, soda or juice. I kind of think soda will freeze faster because it’s already carbonized.”
To help students prepare for high school, college and beyond, Cook-Wissahickon’s dean of students Sean Gray and counselor Marsha Weiford work with students on their application process.
“Ms. Weiford tells us different stories of how different people have made their dreams come true,” said sixth-grader Aniyah Holman. “She’s been also talking to us about selecting a high school. She said the high school you want to go to should be based on academics and your interests. Some of the schools that I’m interested in are Central and SLA. I already know my career path, too. I either want to be a chef or an Olympian for gymnastics.” One-point perspective, shading, blending and working with clay are just some of the things students will be working on in Christina Kimmel’s art class. “My art teacher teaches you different areas of art and then you get to do it yourself,” said seventh-grader Sarah Weill-Jones. “My favorite project so far is one-point perspective. I think it’s really cool because you get to put other art into it like shading and blending. I definitely can see myself having a career in art. I like literacy, the performing arts and painting. Having a career in any of those three areas will be OK with me.”
Seventh-grader Angela Cherry is another student that likes being in Kimmel’s art class.
“Art is another way to express your feelings,” Cherry said. “We did a project last year where we had to write about the person who made some kind of art. My project was about Harley Quinn. She is one of my favorite super-villains. This year, I want to do something about the gay flag and try to show people that you can be anybody that you want to be in life. I also want to learn how to do pottery. Everybody says it’s fun, but I want to try it for myself.”
From: Chanel Hill Tribune Staff Writer • Nov 22, 2016
Principal Michael Lowe was walking a new student who was coming from another school around the building at Cook-Wissahickon School. It was during his tour of the premises, that Zoe Magee walked up to the student and not only introduced herself but also gave her insight on what it would be like attending the school.
It was an experience that Lowe never forgot.
“That experience really just showed who Zoe is as a person,” he said. “She really embodies a lot of the students that go to Cook-Wissahickon. She’s just a really great kid.”
Magee has been going to Cook-Wissahickon for nine years. “I love this school,” said the seventh-grader. “This school is special not only because I go here, but the people that you meet here are very nice. The teachers are great. They prepare you for the next level. I also love having all of these different cultures at my school. We’re not just learning in the classroom, but also from each other.”
After winning her school’s spelling bee, Magee went on to participate in the Philadelphia Tribune Scripps Regional Spelling Bee. “With the spelling bee, I won for my class,” Magee said. “I went on to battle a person who was from the other classroom, which was room 202, and I beat them.
“Following that, I had to go against a seventh- and eighth-grader and I beat them also in the spelling bee. After that win, I went on to the regional spelling bee,” she recalled. “I was really nervous during that spelling bee, but I was also excited. I didn’t win, but I was honored to be in it.”
Magee also participated in the George Washington Carver Science Fair, where she took third place in the earth science category for sixth graders and earned a special award for her project. “As far as topics for the project, everybody was trying to do something that they found on the internet,” Magee said. “I wanted to do something different. My project was on the temperature of water and if it affects soil erosion. I wanted to do something that affects our society because I’ve noticed that a lot of factories — after they got done using their hot water — they go and pour it in the grass and soil. “That really affects us because soil takes thousands of years to just get one covered soil,” she added. “That’s really important so that we can grow our plants and trees so we can survive. My hypothesis was if I thought hot water will make the soil erode faster than colder room temperature water. My conclusion was actually true, but I thought the cold water will be the least one, but it was actually the second one that eroded the most. “The room temperature water was just still on the soil. I learned a lot about soil and our natural environment and what people are doing to it that’s damaging it. I got a 97 on my science fair project. Three students from my school, including myself, were selected to go on to the George Washington Carver Science Fair. I got two special awards while I was there. I also received a medal. Out of seven students, I came in at third place,” Magee said.
Magee says her experience as Cook-Wissahickon has definitely helped prepare her for high school. She says her counselor, Marsha Weiford, has given her class insight on how to choose the best high school. “Even though we are in the seventh grade, Ms. Weiford says we need to do our best now because this is the grade that high schools really look at your grades. She gave us a book about the different schools in the district,” Magee said.
“The book shows the school’s different programs, achievement gaps, and safety levels. Even though there may be a different book out next year, she still wants us to look ahead and start planning now for our future,” she added.
Tashisd, Jalynn, Tyson are three African American boys full of energy and growing quickly and Anaya, an attractive young lady, is also full of energy and very use to competing with boys. When they formed their team for the science fair project, they did not really take it seriously. In their first class, they met the program director and lead mentor for their school and learned that they would be doing a science fair project and they would have someone to help them. They were assigned Ms. Barry from Temple University College of Science and Technology. This team had no idea what they wanted to pursue as a project even though they wanted to do something. The first factor was that the mentor spent the time with the team to explore their interests and through brainstorming – which most of them were not use to- they came up with an idea.
They decided to do a project related to cigarettes because of how much children are exposed to them by advertisings, second hand smoke and other kids encouraging it. There experiment was completed inside the classroom and outside in the playground. While we interacted on the playground while doing the project, they all related to someone in their family that smokes. They explored the health risks of cigarette smoke and confessed that they are always under pressure to smoke. So they decided to do an experiment to see what was in cigarettes that posed such a health risk. The goal of the mentor was not just have them say smoking is bad for you but to do and experiment that would show why.
They built a replica of a lung type model made of plastic, tubing, paper towels and of course a cigarette. At first they tried to use a glass bottle but it did not work. A key factor in their work at this point was that the mentor guided them to continue even though their first two attempts at creating a model did not work. Finally, they used a liter plastic soda bottle and made the model and tested it three times. They place a cigarette at the top and used air to suck the smoke into the bottom of the bottle where it went through wet paper towels and the tar residue was captured.
The most amazing image was during the science fair and they had to present to a judge. All of the students were knowledgeable about the experiment and straightforward about the problems they had developing the model. And, the final key factor was that they received encouragement to be proud of their work and they said, “ Next time we will do better”
Zoe, 6th grader – mentoring and science fair judges
Zoe is a very smart but quiet African American 6th grade girl. She speaks so softly that people have to stand very close to her to even understand her words. We learned from her teacher and from Zoe that she is very passionate and knows a lot about wolves and can talk (albeit very quietly) about wolves forever. When she is on the subject of wolves she beams with enthusiasm.
She was just entering the school and found that she had to do a science fair project and that was something she did not want to do. In fact, when school opened in September, she showed little motivation to learn about anything other than wolves and was generally unenthusiastic about school. Fortunately for her, even though this was her first year completing a science fair project and she was not moved by the experience, she found herself in a class with iPraxis and was assigned Sandy, her weekly science fair mentor. She was convinced that she could not find a science fair project that would interest her.
One of the key factors in moving Zoe along was that her mentor worked with her and convinced her that a science fair project could be fun and she could learn a lot and that she could chose a topic of interest to her. We are not sure she believed him but decided to give it a try. Sandy learned of her interest in wolves but what would make a good science fair project. They talked about what kind of science fair project could be related to wolves? Eventually they decided to investigate the effect of fat reserves in keeping wolves warm in the arctic cold.
Another key factor that was important after getting her interest was to chart a path of discovery that would have her learn more and design a project. Under Sandy’s guidance, Zoe learned about wolf anatomy, thermal self-regulation, and the insulating powers of stored fat before conducting an experiment comparing heat loss with different amounts of body fat. Zoe had a great time learning about and doing her project. She even showed off her artistic talent by drawing a magnificent wolf on her science fair display board. But then, the time came to be interviewed by judges at the science fair, Zoe froze.
One judge kept trying to get her to speak up and asked lots of questions about her project while the other judge, Mike, silently watched Zoe. Mike identified with Zoe. He understood how she felt and wanted to help her relax. So he asked Zoe if she liked to sing. A big smile spread across Zoe’s face as she nodded. Then Mike asked if she liked to perform when she sang and again, Zoe nodded. She had stopped thinking about how nervous she was and kept getting more excited about her love of singing and performing. Next Mike asked for a performance and asked Zoe to sing her project’s title. Zoe suddenly looked a little nervous again but quietly put the title to a tune. Mike didn’t stop there. He got Zoe to keep singing her title louder and louder and add movement until Zoe was beaming and ready to tell the judges everything about her project. And lastly, another key factor is nothing is scripted. Many things occur in our program all the time that we cannot anticipate. It just so happened that Mike happened to be Zoe’s judge at the fair and he knew what it was like to be nervous as a presenter. He was sensitive enough to know that STEM can be STEAM. He made the link and she performed.
Zoe finished the science fair feeling proud of herself and proud of the work she had done on her project. Her teacher noticed a difference in Zoe in class and has since commented on her increased classroom participation and overt enjoyment for learning. And the impact wasn’t only on Zoe. Those two judges have brought Zoe up on several occasions to iPraxis staff since that day. Mike has mentioned how he brought Zoe out of her shell by connecting with her on other things and the other judge compared Zoe to his own grandkids and used similar methods to encouragement with nervous students at a subsequent iPraxis fair.
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I asked Meagan Hopkins-Dower how she thought iPraxis’ involvement with Northwood Academy’s science fair added a special value to the students’ education, here’s her response:
I have always thought of the science fair as a way for the students to explore science in their own terms and investigate topics that interest them, but are not necessarily covered by the curriculum. By being a home project, it is also a way for students to apply the information they gain in school to a real question of their own design. When outside scientists and engineers (from iPRAXIS) come in to judge and talk to the students, they give value to the students’ work. It changes the project from a school assignment to something that can be a point of pride for the students. As a former teacher, there have been multiple instances where several years afterward, students will contact me asking about their projects. Not only do the students think of their science fair projects as more important, but the iPRAXIS judges give advice for future projects and are ACTUAL SCIENTISTS who are clearly professionals and yet attainable to the students.
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Northwood Academy Charter School held it’s annual science fair this past Thursday at it’s annex in the former Saint Joachim’s school at Penn and Church. My father, wife and I stopped by to check out how the budding scientists were faring. I met with Meagan Hopkins-Doerr, former Northwood Charter teacher and current iPraxis program director, who guided me through the process that the students would follow. All students in 7th and 8th grade are prepped for science projects. Those that were able to attain a certain level of preparation were moved ahead to the school’s science fair.
Judging for the school’s science fair was coordinated with iPraxis, a non profit organization who’s focus is to improve science opportunities for underserverd students. According to iPraxis’ website, “science comes to life for kids when they get to learn by seeing, hearing, feeling, and experiencing science inside and outside of their classrooms.”
iPraxis coordinated with the school to link up Ph.D. candidate scientists to judge the competition and then mentor the winning students in each category weekly until the region wide George Washington Carver Science Fair hosted at Temple in early March.
I spoke with Cordell, an 8th grader at Northwood Academy, who’s science fair project this year centered around what can make an electromagnet stronger. He was excited by the opportunity to showcase what he learned and looked forward to the opportunity to compete.
It was great to the asset to the community that Northwood Academy has become and it was the first time in a couple decades that I was back in Saint Joachim’s auditorium since I graduated 8th grade. It seemed a lot smaller than I remembered.
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Remember the 3 Rs?: Readin’, ’Ritin’ and ’Rithmatic? Well one group of Girard students added “robotics” to the list during the 2010-11 school year.
Their great adventure began in March when Education Specialist/ Technology Coach Stephanie Greer introduced a new program to 40 fifth- and sixth-grade students. She explained that she was accepting applications for a team that would work together to design, build and operate a “SeaPerch,” a simple, remotely operated underwater vehicle, or ROV. The culmination of their work would be a citywide competition held at Drexel University in April.
Greer received applications from 26 students; 17 students were selected based on originality and relevance of answers and evidence of specific interest in robotics, math, science or engineering.
Funded by sponsors of National Robotics Week who provided free materials and arranged for a mentor from Drexel, the ROV program is a perfect fit for Girard’s commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). “Step up to STEM” emphasizes building skills earlier in elementary grades and preparing students to live and work in our increasingly high-tech world. The team had the added benefit of an engineer mentor named Dan Tadesco, who came to them through iPraxis a non-profit group that helps schools connect with local scientists and engineers.
Preparation and Learning
For weeks, members of this very young team met twice a week from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., initially in the science lab of the elementary school and later at the pool. They put various principles such as buoyancy and gravity to the test, and applied what they learned as they designed, built and tested several ROVs. Working in pairs, they used PVC pipe and numerous tools; built Ethernet cables; soldered switches, fuses and cable ports to printed circuit boards; and, of course, practiced lab safety.
Progressing methodically on the Girard College campus, this team of elementary students – as well as the adults who led them – could not imagine what challenges lay ahead in the competition.
An Unexpected Turn of Events
On April 16, Greer and her team drove to Drexel’s John A. Daskalakis Athletic Center for the 6th Annual Greater Philadelphia Sea Perch Challenge. The team was accompanied by family members and a Girard chaperone, residential counselor Jen Berry.
The SeaPerch Challenge was started by M.I.T. and the U.S. Navy to introduce pre-college students to the world of Naval engineering. Forty-two student teams from Pennsylvania and New Jersey entered robots that needed to “Cap the Well and Save the Sea,” simulating clean-up efforts after the recent ocean oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Most students sat in bleachers and watched their teammates (two at a time) participate in each stage of the event. Stage one is compliance and occurs prior to the actual competition. Girard’s students were buzzing with confidence as their ROV passed the first test (construction and design) quickly and easily.
But smiles and excitement changed to disbelief as our students watched the second test.
At this stage, the handlers must demonstrate that the ROV can turn, dive and resurface in the pool. The Girard ROV dove beautifully but then failed to resurface. The problem became evident when the top propeller floated to the surface of the water.
With no time to express disappointment, the Girard students quickly cleaned and sanded the motor shaft and re-epoxied the propeller shaft. As the opening ceremonies began, Greer and a pair of students snuck out to retest and pass compliance. They found the judge and attempted compliance test 2 again.
The SeaPerch dove. It resurfaced. It went forward and backward. It turned left. And suddenly, it had a dead left motor.
With two dramatic failures and sinking hearts, the kids spent the next hour and a half working with three college engineering students at the triage table. At 11:15, reacting to a growing suspicion that the problem wasn’t the motor, but was instead a break somewhere in the 20 feet of tether cable, Greer decided it was time to take drastic action.
Greer asked her two adult cohorts to rush back to campus, retrieve one or two of the prototypes stored in the Lower School lab and bring them back to the competition. 40 minutes later, the kids swapped out the thrusters and ran down to the pool to find a judge to give them one last shot.
Successfully passing the third attempt at pool compliance, the team had missed all of the time slots for middle school competitors. They had to move fast, splitting up so that one group could compete in the high school-level pool challenge and the other group could make a PowerPoint presentation three blocks away.
And that is when the Girard team began to experience their reward for extraordinary perseverance.
Back in the Game
Students, family members and friends cheered as the first team successfully navigated through the first competitive stage, the obstacle course. Particularly because of the disastrous morning, emotions soared!
The second team had the difficult task of completing the “Cap the Well” stage of the pool challenge during which students had to put their unique SeaPerch engineering designs to the test. The team initially did very well. Using the special hook attachment they had designed, they easily lifted a pvc cap, carried it to a specified mark, and placed it over an air valve to “stop the oil flow.” Unfortunately, just moments later, they knocked that cap off, undoing their hard work. Despite the fact the students displayed an intense focus beyond their years, when the timer buzzed marking twenty-five minutes, the team had not successfully completed all three steps of the challenge
There were more than a few teary eyes, but Greer drew them together to acknowledge their substantial successes:
The Girard group left, encouraged by Greer’s words, but saddened by the final outcome. What none of them knew at the time was how few teams had actually completed the challenge and that, relative to other schools, Girard’s performance had been excellent.
A few days after the event, Greer received this e-mail:
"Hello, I represent the Atlantic Rangers Scuba club. We were the divers in the pool during the recent SeaPerch competition. Each year our club gives an award to the team we feel shows determination to compete despite disadvantages or obstacles. This year we gave our “Against All Odds” award to your middle school. You also won SeaPearch’s third-place award for pool performance. Your team had left the building before we could recognize you. I have these awards in my possession and will bring them to you."
“Pretty cool,” Greer said.
“The overall experience undoubtedly taught our students many science and engineering concepts,” Greer added. “But they also learned the life lessons of being part of a team that just won’t quit.”
Depending on funding, Greer hopes to have another SeaPerch team next year. She also plans to launch a LEGO FLL (http://www.firstlegoleague.org/mission/ support ) team in the fall.
We look forward to the next adventure!
iPraxis Furthers Its Mission of Involving Minority Children in the Sciences from Its New Home at the Science Center
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PHILADELPHIA--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--iPraxis, a nonprofit organization that focuses on attracting and involving people of color in science exploration at early ages and increasing the participation of minorities in the business of science, has moved into the University City Science Center’s Port business incubator.
“By working with iPraxis, we’re able to help improve science education in city schools and classrooms and demonstrate our commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education”
“In its new home, iPraxis will be surrounded by the entrepreneurs and scientists it relies on to achieve its goals of improving science education for underserved students, increasing the participation of minorities in the business of science, and guaranteeing that scientific breakthroughs benefit everyone,” says iPraxis Founder and Vice-chair Jeremiah White.
“By working with iPraxis, we’re able to help improve science education in city schools and classrooms and demonstrate our commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education,” says Stephen S. Tang, Ph.D., president & CEO of the Science Center. “We are pleased that iPraxis has decided to join the community of entrepreneurs and innovators at the Port.”
The Science Center has been a longtime supporter of iPraxis, most recently hosting its bench2BUSINESS program in December 2009. The seminar was designed for aspiring and established scientists and entrepreneurs of color who want to learn the essentials of starting a bioscience venture. The Science Center has also supported iFunction, an annual awards ceremony recognizing student science fair winners and scientist mentors. iPraxis organizes several other events to engage students, teachers, scientists, and other professionals including Project iNSPIRE designed to excite students about the promise science offers to address to the problems we face in the 21st century.
About the Science Center
The University City Science Center accelerates technology commercialization, regional economic development, and the market availability of life-enhancing scientific breakthroughs by bringing together innovations, scientists, entrepreneurs, funding, laboratory facilities, and business services. Established in 1963 and headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, the Science Center was the first, and remains the largest, urban research park in the United States. Graduate organizations and current residents of the University City Science Center’s Port business incubators have created more than 15,000 jobs that remain in the Greater Philadelphia region today and contribute more than $9 billion to the regional economy annually. For more information about the Science Center, go to www.sciencecenter.org.
University City Science Center
Jeanne Mell, 215-966-6029
By Haywood Brewster
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Celebration included acclaimed inventor and industry professionals
Ten 6th through 8th grade winners of West Philadelphia public school science fairs were lauded at a festive reception, reportedly, the only one of its kind, that brings together future scientists with leaders in science and technology.
In attendance to celebrate the winners were Stephen S. Tang, President and CEO of The Science Center; keynote speaker Bruce Redding, Inventor and President/ CEO of Encapsulation Systems; Board Members of iPRAXIS, the non-profit dedicated to improving science education for all; other science professionals from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania; and teachers, students and parents from the participating schools.
Bruce Redding inspired the winners with stories about his own inventions. Holding up a package of fruit roll-ups, Redding explained how he invented the flavor capsule that gives the roll-ups their true fruit flavor. Redding also spoke of several other inventions, many designed to save lives by effectively delivering drugs directly into the body. Redding’s main messages to the science fair winners: "Don’t let anybody tell you ‘No’!" !" and " You do not have to be old to invent – young people invent lots of useful things. It is never to late or too early."
Jeremiah White, co-founder of iPRAXIS explained how celebrating children’s accomplishments in science has the long-term goal of fulfilling the employment needs of Philadelphia’s vibrant life sciences industry. "It is vitally important in science education to start early and to instill a passion for science in all students – and especially to publicly celebrate student science fair winners." said Jeremiah White, iPRAXIS Board Chair and Chair of Osiris Group, Inc. "Philadelphia has become an epicenter for the life sciences industry and we need to prepare Philadelphia students to become the prime recruits for life sciences jobs."
"We believe that all public school students should have the opportunity to meet working scientists," said Heseung Ann Song, Vice-Chair of iPRAXIS and President/CEO of Osiris Group, Inc. "Research shows that it’s the opportunity to meet and work with real scientists that spurs an early interest in science careers."
The Third Annual Praxies Award Reception, ifunction, was held on May 7, 2009 at The Science Center at 3711 Market Street. Bruce Redding received the ‘Praxies’ Science Advocate Award. Volunteer scientist, or ‘Scienteer,’ Colin Brown, received the ‘Scienteer of the Year’ Award. Blankenburg Elementary School Science Teacher, Theresa Lewis-King received the ‘Partner of the Year’ Award.
The 10 public school winners participated in science fairs at Henry C. Lea Elementary School and Rudolph Blankenburg Elementary School in Spring 2009. iPRAXIS also provided scienteers for class presentations and teacher workshops at Martha Washington, Alain Locke, and Belmont Elementary schools, and will produce science fairs at these schools next year, as part of its expanding program.
The awards reception, ifunction, was presented by The Science Center and by Drexel University, its major sponsors. Other sponsors of the iPRAXIS science education program include: The Christopher Ludwick Foundation, Union Benevolent Association, The Wachovia Foundation, Enon Community Reinvestment Ministry, The Seybert Institution, and the Lomax Family Foundation, who all recognize the impact of excellent science education on the regional economy and on Philadelphia’s reputation as a leader in science and technology research and development.
According to industry resources, the Philadelphia region is a growing life science center and is recognized as one of the largest life sciences clusters in the country. With more than 100 publicly listed life sciences companies, this cluster accounts for over one-third of the life sciences revenues and employment in the U.S.
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State Rep. James R. Roebuck, Jr., chair of the State House of Representatives’ Education Committee and member of the College’s Board of Trustees, held a public hearing at the College on April 15 to examine what can be done to improve and accelerate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for Philadelphia children and youth. George E. Davis, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, welcomed the committee members. College Trustee Jeremiah J. White, Jr. also spoke. The Urban STEM Strategy Group, corporate and biotech leaders and educators, including Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, testified. Photos by Bonnie Squires of Squires Consulting.
Pursuing Biotechnology: Opportunities abound for innovative entrepreneurs in this multibillion-dollar industry
Dr. Judith Gwathmey, chief executive and scientific officer of Gwathmey Inc., is excited about the growing business opportunities in the burgeoning biotechnology industry. Gwathmey says her firm, which tests drugs to identify safety and toxicity before they are submitted to the Federal Drug Administration for approval, is a success story that illustrates the lucrative prospects in biotechnology for black-owned businesses.
Testing new drugs in the areas of infectious disease, arthritis, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease on behalf of biotech companies is work that Gwathmey says is relevant and satisfying. “I think African Americans should become more involved in drug discovery, research, and development because the potential for companies like mine in terms of [annual] revenues is about $20 million, and the opportunities are endless,” she says.
Her 10-year-old, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company has secured contracts ranging from $2,000 to $2 million by conducting biotech research for small or young companies and large firms such as GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 843 black-owned firms generated $150 million in sales in 2002 by providing scientific research and development services. In addition, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) notes that U.S. healthcare biotechnology revenues increased from $11 billion in 1994 to $39 billion in 2003. The U.S. biotechnology industry spent $18 billion on research and development in 2003, according to the organization.
Dr. Irving W. McConnell, president of The McConnell Group in Dublin, Pennsylvania, is also tapping into the expanding industry. His company, which provides the necessary staff to conduct pre-clinical research, as well as supplies — such as syringes, needles, centrifuges, and chemicals — posted revenues of $5 million last year, half of which was generated from business with biotech companies.
Still, biotechnology, defined as the application of scientific and engineering principles to manipulate life forms to provide desirable products for human use, can be a difficult business for many startup firms strictly conducting clinical research.
Many young companies are hedging their bets that successful clinical trials to develop vaccines will turn a profit for them. One such company is Nora L.L.C., a biotech firm in Baltimore that is developing new immunology therapeutics, in particular, a treatment for recurrent miscarriages and in vitro fertilization failure caused by maternal rejection of the fetus.
Nora President Darryl Carter says patience is required for startup research firms because they must survive for several years on grants and venture capital investments before earning profits from their FDA-approved drugs. “So far we’ve received a grant of $75,000 from the state of Maryland and another $100,000 from the National Institutes of Health. We know it will take a few more years and several million dollars to get FDA approval, but the market is worth $800 million annually, so we are prepared to take the risk,” Carter says.
BIO, with a sponsorship from research firm Genentech Inc., has launched a minority outreach initiative at its annual convention. BIO hired the Osiris Group Inc., a Philadelphia-based marketing firm, to help execute and promote its outreach program. Osiris President Jeremiah J. White Jr. says black biotechnology firms need to contact venture capitalists, professional organizations, and individuals in the scientific community who can help them locate financial assistance and support services. White says, “We need to be prepared to build companies and create scientists and entrepreneurs that can capture these opportunities.”