Advancing STEM equity: Fostering science STARs

When Jadah Depina first joined the Biogen Foundation’s STAR (Science, Teacher support, Access & Readiness) Initiative five years ago, she didn’t think her future college career would center on STEM. Now a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, she is applying to leading East Coast universities with plans to major in a STEM-based field like biotechnology.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, between 2019-2029, the number of STEM jobs will grow by 8%, compared with 3.7% for all other occupations. While employment in STEM fields is growing, students from underserved communities are disproportionately unexposed to and unprepared for STEM careers. Enrichment opportunities that prepare young people for success in STEM education are limited, and primarily directed toward students already equipped with strong academic skills and access to professional networks. 

Thanks to her participation in STAR, Jadah Depina is looking to pursue a career in STEM. Photo courtesy of Jadah Depina.

The STAR Initiative helps address this disparity by supporting a coordinated ecosystem of organizations that help low-income students develop and sustain their interest in STEM, gain necessary STEM exposure and enrichment opportunities, and successfully transition into post-secondary education in pursuit of STEM careers. Focused on Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts, the STAR Initiative unites high-performing nonprofits and two school districts. 

The $12 million, multi-year investment reaches students — grades 6-12, plus those in their first two years of college — who have been historically underrepresented in STEM college and career pathways, including economically disadvantaged students and multilingual learners.

Jadah is now one of more than 4,000 students who has participated in STAR since it began in 2018. Since the program’s inception, STAR has served students in 15 schools and supported more than 500 teachers in enhancing their STEM capabilities and curricula, resulting in the establishment of 21 new STEM programs in area schools. The program has had an incredible impact on student performance. In Somerville, for example, participation in STAR has increased the likelihood of passing ninth-grade math by 24% for Black students and 15% for Hispanic and/or Latino students. The Biogen Foundation’s commitment to STAR has enabled the teachers and organizations involved to share resources and insights, serve more students and design innovative new programming. 

Angeline UyHam, one of Jadah’s STAR instructors, said, “STAR has helped me do my job better by providing me the time, space and opportunity to work with such amazing leaders from organizations throughout Cambridge and Somerville. The power of the collective far outweighs the impact that just one organization could achieve.”

The Biogen Foundation is now in the process of bringing new collaborators into STAR to scale the benefits and further broaden the initiative to drive even greater positive change.

Jadah is now taking classes like Advanced Placement Environmental Science and Biotechnology 3. “I love everything about the program,” she said. “The instructors are great to work with, and through the years, I’ve progressed from learning math through STAR to teaching math to middle-schoolers from all different backgrounds. It’s pretty cool.”

“I love everything about the program,” she said. “The instructors are great to work with, and through the years, I’ve progressed from learning math through STAR to teaching math to middle-schoolers from all different backgrounds.”

- Jadah Depina, STAR Initiative participant

In its fourth year (school year 2021-2022), STAR served 1,077 students and 110 educators, helping students pass ninth-grade math at higher rates and increasing the number of STAR students taking advanced math classes. Learn more about our 2022 impact here.

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