Growing a Passion for Science

The first step to encouraging students to pursue STEM careers is helping them see the work – and themselves – in a new light.  

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North Chicago students experience both the virtual and actual reality of health care.

A Field (Trip) Guide for Tomorrow's STEM Leaders

Close your eyes and picture a scientist.  

If your default image is someone resembling Albert Einstein or Bill Nye, you’re not alone. Since 1957, various “Draw a Scientist” experiments have consistently resulted in sketches of older Caucasian men in glasses, regardless of who is doing the drawing – children, adults, even scientists themselves. 

When a group of high school students stepped off their school buses onto AbbVie’s campus on a gray February morning, they may have had this same scientist image in their heads. As part of a partnership involving North Chicago Community High School, the Illinois Science & Technology Institute and the AbbVie Foundation, the teens had been paired with employee mentors and challenged to come up with a new way to improve the lives of cancer patients.

They got off the bus expecting to percolate these ideas, take a quick tour of where their mentors worked and maybe eat some pizza. 

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Then, somewhere between the fervent brainstorming on whiteboards, the awe of a virtual reality experience, and the outfitting of lab coats and goggles, something changed. It could’ve been the presentation of scientific computing or the microscopy demonstration, or maybe a simple moment of connection between researcher and student. But by the time the school buses departed, the next generation of potential Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) stars had taken that dated, uninspired scientist stereotype and turned it on its head. 

So go ahead. Close your eyes, and picture a scientist. 

Now open them, and see what the future of biotech really looks like. 

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Students sat down with researchers to get a hands-on demo of the daily activities happening in the development sciences – new chemical entities lab. “It’s more in-depth learning of certain subjects that we only get to preview a bit in science classes,” one student explained. “You’re always wondering, am I just learning this for no reason? So it’s cool to see it in action.”

A few of the students visiting campus already had clear visions of what they wanted to be doing in 10 years – and the day’s events helped to further crystalize these plans. Junior Daziyr Tyler hopes to eventually do something with computer science for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but her current passion involves designing an app for cancer patients as part of the AbbVie Foundation Challenge.

“I want to see how technology can change someone’s life,” she says. “You could have a program that gives you possible symptoms or outcomes … or doctors could use technology to communicate with other doctors who aren’t able to meet in person.”
 
Ricardo Russell, a senior, wants to pursue a career in health informatics. “I’m hoping to find new ways to help people,” he said. After watching AbbVie’s chief medical officer Rob Scott speak at the event about the complex process of drug discovery, Russell was inspired by “the different ways things come together to help a patient … It’s not just a doctor diagnosing somebody and giving them a treatment; there’s a lot of things that go into it.”
 
At 3 p.m., Ricardo, Daziyr and their classmates left campus to return to the realities of high school. As the bus pulled away, the infinite possibilities of a career in science felt closer than ever.

Deziyr Tyler and her team are developing an avatar who can offer emotional and practical support for cancer patients.
High school senior Ricardo Russell was inspired to pursue a career in health care by his mother, a nurse. “She’s always taking care of people,” he said.

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Mary Kathryn Steel
Email: MK.Steel@abbvie.com
Call: + 1 847-937-4111
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