State-of-the-art science lab opens for students at SSF High

Tuesday, September 05, 2017 06:23PM
The lab was donated by Genentech -- and stocked with some of the same real-world tools used in the biotech company's own labs.

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - A year ago, it was a row of gilded shovels sticking up from a big pile of dirt.

Today, on the same spot, a ribbon was cut in front of a state-of-the-art science lab for students at South San Francisco High School.

The way one student put it, the labs purpose is "to help people get inspired by science, because science isn't boring like some people think it is."

Nicholas Arcega added that he's excited to learn about genetics.

"Changing things in plants -- we'll be able to change their DNA, change their colors just by changing some sequences," he said. "That's what i'm excited for -- to get to work with a living thing."

The lab was donated by Genentech -- and stocked with some of the same real-world tools used in the biotech company's own labs.

"The kids have access to such great state-of-the-art equipment that I didn't even have access to when I went to college," said their teacher, Cherie Cohen.

Genentech is South San Francisco's biggest employer, and might have some openings by the time these teens are ready to enter the workforce. CEO Bill Anderson spoke to a gathering of students and teachers, all wearing T-shirts that read, "The future of science is here."

He clarified, "The future of science is not here," as he pointed to himself. "The future of science is here -- it's all around us."

But for that vision to come true, Genentech and South San Francisco will have to defy the odds.

"The fastest growing careers are largely based in a knowledge of math and science," said Genentech's director of corporate and employee giving, Kristin Campbell Reed. "But ... half of students are disengaged (from) science by the time they hit middle school. And that's a huge gap."

That's why the new building comes with a new curriculum that aims to get kids thinking like scientists -- a skill educators say will benefit them whether or not they choose to pursue a career in the sciences.

"You're trying new things, you're failing and you're learning from that, so it builds in not only innovation but an opportunity for our kids to really grapple with things," said the district's superintendent, Shawnterra Moore.

Sophomores at the high school will get a biotechnology "sampler" as part of their science class that will help them decide what to study as juniors and seniors. This year alone, about a thousand students in South San Francisco Unified School District will do coursework in biotech. Some classes held in the Science Garage include daily hands-on lab work, and Genentech employees will volunteer as teaching assistants and mentors.

"That's a little bit different than the way a company typically does philanthropy," Reed said. "We think there's an opportunity for other companies to see what we've done here and to step into their own backyards."

Though the ribbon cutting was its official opening, the Science Garage has been open to students for two weeks -- and teachers say it's already working its magic.

"Our seniors are applying for college and they're like, 'What colleges offer biotechnology?'" Cohen said. "They come to me and ask -- so they're already thinking about that as being a possible career choice for them."
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