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  1. Blog
  2. Partners in Diversity
  3. June 13, 2023

From Classroom to Career: How One Innovative Biotech Company Inspires Young Minds in STEM

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is investing in the growth and diversity of their industry

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is investing in the growth and diversity of their industry through their Learning Labs, community-oriented programs that invite students to learn science firsthand.
Photo courtesy of Logan Moreno Gutierrez

This article is part of InHerSight's Partners in Diversity series. Discover companies partnering with InHerSight to better support women in the workplace.

Jo Dias started her work at Vertex Pharmaceuticals early—as a high school student. In 2017, she visited the biotech company’s Boston-based STEAM Learning Lab, a hands-on laboratory aimed at fostering student interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), with her biology teacher and her senior class. Inspired by the immersive experience, that same week, Dias applied for the company’s six-week, paid summer internship program. 

“I fell in love with the lab, the culture, and the community at Vertex,” she says. “I joined the 2017 high summer internship cohort and participated every summer after that (including in college) until the summer of 2021.” In June 2022, after completing a Bachelor of Science in biology and women’s and gender studies, she was hired full time as the STEAM education senior coordinator at Vertex. Now Dias, a Black woman and West African immigrant, embodies everything the company aims to achieve with their student programming: to introduce, immerse, and encourage young people, especially young people from underrepresented communities, to pursue careers in STEM fields. 

Vertex Pharmaceuticals

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is a global biotechnology company that invests in scientific innovation to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases—most notably those that treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis (CF), a rare, life-threatening genetic disease. They’re rated most highly for Support for Diversity, Sense of Belonging, and Paid Time Off. Plus, 100% of raters say they feel they were paid fairly from the start. Explore Vertex’s benefits and culture now!

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“Students whose identities have historically been underrepresented in STEM careers are the focus of the Learning Labs’ work,” says Dr. Melodie Knowlton, senior director, community affairs, and global head of STEAM education and Vertex Foundation at Vertex. She oversees and supports programming for school year class visits, summer internship programs, and year-round community outreach for Vertex’s Learning Labs in San Diego, Boston, and Oxford (UK). “It is critical that we create an environment where these students feel comfortable, empowered, and included in the future of STEM,” she says. 

Some might call that an investment—in the future and in the community—and that word would be on brand for an organization like Vertex. As a business, the company invests in scientific innovation to create transformative medicines for people with serious diseases. Their unique research has transformed approaches to cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, beta thalassemia, kidney disease, pain, and type 1 diabetes.  

“Just like science is always getting better, our Learning Labs aim to mirror the innovation and growth we see happening in our research labs,” Knowlton says.  

Founded in 2012, the first Learning Lab in Boston was developed with the initial vision “to create an engaging space in Vertex’s buildings to literally bring young people into the world of STEM and biotech,” Knowlton says. “Employees and leadership wanted to give back by helping to excite and inspire the next generation of scientists, innovators, and health care professionals.” 

Signature programming at the time included many of the programs Knowlton oversees more than a decade later, such as local class visits and internship programs, but she says that over time, the team has evolved the work by creating a virtual internship during the pandemic, establishing more outreach by Vertex Volunteers in the local schools, and developing a more comprehensive curricular framework called “Making Medicine,” which puts all of the Learning Lab activities within the context of getting transformative therapies to patients.  

“The Learning Lab has had a powerful influence in the community,” Knowlton says. “It has set an example to other businesses for what is possible when looking to engage young people and schools in the community. Schools that have worked with us report heightened engagement and excitement around science. Students love the visits to the labs, and they look forward to the time when they can join the company as summer interns.” 

Dias says the Learning Lab was an important stepping stone for her into the world of biotech. Through the program, she was able to learn and explore different areas of STEAM education and find where she fit in. “I was exposed to science through the various activities and experiments we performed in the lab and arts through the different ‘enrichment Fridays’ activities we participated in,” she says. “This opportunity allowed me to be immersed in a culture that focuses on putting patients first!” 

Through her internships, she was also able to explore different departments, including the Learning Lab, Medical Affairs, and the Structural Biology and Biophysics department. “I had the opportunity to work with managers in different departments within Vertex,” she says. These connections served as mentors throughout her time as an intern and continue to be very supportive of her growth. 

“I have developed and improved many personal and professional skills through mentorship and networking,” she says. “The Learning Lab program and team supported me as I acclimated to a new country. This opportunity set me up for success, and I'm grateful to be part of a program that has in mind the best intentions for young women of color.” 

Knowlton says the Learning Lab helps young women to see that they can be scientists and leaders and that, moving forward, their women-led team hopes to broaden their impact as the company grows and expands, deepening their relationships with the community and adding more Vertex employees to their crew of volunteers in the lab. 

“Internally, we see employees energized by their work in the Learning Lab,” Knowlton says. “They grow as mentors and communicators. Beyond this, they feel more connected to their local communities and the efforts of the company to broaden and diversify the future biotech workforce.”

For Dias, it’s this collaborative, forward-focused culture that kept bringing her back to the company—as a student, as an intern, and finally as an employee. “To any woman interested in working at Vertex, take advantage of being at the right place!” she says. “Vertex values and encourages authenticity, leadership, and teamwork. Therefore, bring your flavor to the workplace, strive for excellence in everything you do, and grow every step of the way.”

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