Genspace’s Biorocket Internship is a profiled program in the Plugging In Report.
Who is served: High school students ages 15 and up who are minority groups in STEM. 80 percent of participants are from Title I schools.
Number of participants: 4 teams of 3 students each (12 students total) served annually
Location: Out of school; Genspace Lab in Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Frequency/Duration: 2 days per week after school from February to May, and 4 days per week 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m. for 7 weeks in July and August
Eligibility Criteria: Must be 15 years of age by July 1; attend a NYC public or charter school located within 45 minutes of Genspace; have a teacher or mentor reference; complete an application (including video or short essay); and commit to participating from February to May and in July and August.; Minority and low-income students are encouraged to apply.
Curriculum: STEM (biology/genetic engineering)-focused curriculum emphasizes lab and technical skills, computational thinking and design thinking, experimental design, digital literacy as well as the ethics of biotech. It’s naturally aligned with but more advanced than NYS science education standards.
Outcomes: Biorocket is part of the NYC Science Research Mentoring Consortium (SRMC) led by the American Museum of Natural History, which is tracking whether participants enroll in college and pursue STEM majors/research. Genspace also tracks students’ science knowledge and lab confidence through qualitative and informal interviews. Several alumni have gone on to work in other SRMC programs.
Partnerships: Pinkerton Foundation, NYC SRMC
Cost: Free, and student interns earn $2000 stipend for summer internship
Sources of funding: Private, Pinkerton Foundation
What makes the program stand out? The program begins with an afterschool component: 4 months focused on technical lab skills and soft skills. During the seven-week summer session that follows, students work in small groups to conceptualize, design, and prototype a biotech project, such as biosensors to detect metals in the water supply.
Lab programs such as Genspace which let students design their own experience rather than take direction are rare. Lab space alone is hard to come by in New York City’s public schools, making Genspace uniquely valuable to the community it serves. Moreover, Biorocket replicates the project-driven learning approach of iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine), a competition that costs thousands of dollars, but Biorocket is free and pays students a $2,000 stipend.
The city’s LifeSci NYC initiative, announced in December 2016, will put $500 million toward generating jobs in the life sciences over the next decade. But the industry faces the same equity and access dilemmas as other tech fields, according to Genspace Director of Education Beth Tuck. “If we’re not very intentional and strategic about [diversity and inclusion] upfront and persistently, we’re going to hit the same exact challenges.” Biorocket represents an important step in the right direction, but it’s very small and selective (they receive about 70 applications for 12–15 spots).
What do participants need to succeed? More funding so that they can be paid minimum wage, rather than the $2,000 stipend
What does the organization need? More funding and staffing, which could allow the program to reach more students. Better connections to other after-school programs, libraries and summer camps that could use elements of the program.