Vertex Pharmaceuticals Learning Lab Prepares the Next Generation of Diverse STEM Professionals
The City of Boston is home to a thriving biotechnology industry, hosting a number of biotech companies, ranging from small start-ups to billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies.
For over 30 years, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, one of the country’s industry leaders, has invested in scientific innovation to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases. Vertex is also investing in future talent by providing programs to inspire and equip the next generation to love science and pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
Each year, in partnership with the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), Vertex hosts Boston Public Schools (BPS) high school students through its high school summer internship program, which provides students with a valuable opportunity to gain knowledge, mentorship, and experience and learn hands-on skills that serve as the foundation for future careers in STEM as well as learning about other facets of the field, such as marketing and finance, among others.
Najma Abdi, a rising senior at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, is among the 2022 cohort of Vertex’s Learning Lab summer interns. Even from a young age, Najma has always been interested in science.
“My mom works in the medical field, and I was always exposed to the world of science while I was growing up. It’s because of this that I’ve always enjoyed all my science classes,” she explained.
Over the summer, Najma’s internship at Vertex didn’t just affirm her love for science and her desire to pursue a career in STEM. Being surrounded by a diverse group of mentors and fellow interns enabled her to see herself as a future professional.
“I feel very privileged because I know older generations of people of color didn’t have these opportunities when they were growing up. They didn’t have easy access to STEM careers because they were minorities,” Najma explained. “Now, I’m surrounded by other minorities – including people in leadership positions – and we are given a chance to actually be something fantastic.”
André Williams, the Boston Learning Lab Head at Vertex’s headquarters and one of Najma’s managers, says the program is intentional about creating opportunities for young women and students of color who have been traditionally underrepresented in biotech.
“At Vertex, we believe diversity is important, not only in thinking about the ethnic and cultural background, it’s also important for the diversity of thought. If you have the same kind of people all working on the same kind of problem, and they all think the same, it limits the amount of creativity,” said Williams. “It’s really important that we have that diversity built into the program because we want our interns to know that this is the way we want the world to work in the future.”
Najma’s summer internship at Vertex has influenced her future plans: she plans to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering or computational biology. From learning how to pipette, use scientific equipment, and build a network that will support her throughout her career, Najma believes her experience at Vertex will serve as a cornerstone in her budding career in science.
“I see this internship as a milestone. To be seventeen and already have experience working at a biotech company as large as Vertex is a really big step. I would just like to say thank you to Vertex for the opportunity and for allowing me to grow as a student and as a future STEM professional,” said Najma.
Vertex Pharmaceuticals has been a long-standing supporter and partner of the PIC. Since 2012, this strategic partnership has provided STEM education and career exploration opportunities for nearly 300 BPS high school students.