AbbVie is going back to school for Stem
The global biopharmaceutical research and development company is putting in place solutions to help improve Irish student engagement in science and science-related careers
Pictured at the launch of AbbVie’s Back to School for Stem science education initiative: Jackie O’Dowd, Science Foundation Ireland; Dr Norah Patten; Mairead McGuinness, MEP; and Todd Manning, general manager, AbbVie.
AbbVie, which employs more than 700 people at its five manufacturing and commercial sites across Ireland, is acting on recommendations that emerged from a report it commissioned last year.
The multi-stakeholder report, entitled STEM Paths – Steering Students to Success, examined the barriers to engagement in science-related subjects amongst Irish students.
The paper was the result of a roundtable analysis by multiple stakeholders aimed at exploring how companies, educators, professional bodies and others could work together to ensure a consistent pipeline of Stem-educated employees for high value, high opportunity sectors such as pharma, biopharma and medical devices.
Among the key recommendations was to create a closer working relationship with media to highlight young role models, especially females, working within Stem disciplines.
The report called for the provision of greater exposure to the biopharma industry through Transition Year programmes. It also sought improved and targeted interaction with third and fourth level students to encourage them to think beyond academia to consider industry career opportunities
In a bid to start putting these recommendations into action, AbbVie recently launched a new science education initiative at its site in Ballytivnan, Co Sligo, with an event attended by MEP Mairead McGuinness, representatives from Science Foundation Ireland and Dr Norah Patten, a trainee astronaut from Mayo.
Back to School for STEM
The initiative, called Back to School for STEM, is a new schools-outreach programme, focused on promoting science role models who are currently active in the Irish workplace. The initiative, which will be delivered by AbbVie employees, aims to encourage greater student awareness of the rewarding career opportunities that can be unlocked by studying Stem subjects.
Back to School for STEM will see employees from AbbVie’s five different Irish sites visit schools, including those they themselves studied at, to talk about their jobs and the difference their work makes to wider society.
The outreach initiative, which is supported by Science Foundation Ireland, will also detail the many exciting employment possibilities that a strong Stem education can help unlock.
Speaking at the launch, Mairead McGuiness MEP, vice president of the European Parliament, said; “I have no doubt this programme will help raise awareness amongst young people of the attractive and diverse careers that are currently available in Ireland with the many companies active within the Stem sectors. AbbVie’s ongoing efforts to support Stem in our communities is welcome and it highlights the benefit of a partnership approach between schools, industry and other organisations to ensure that young people, teachers and parents are aware of the exciting opportunities that are available with excellent companies.”
Role models are vital if young people are to be inspired and encouraged to consider committing to Stem
Norah Patten, keynote speaker at the event, has a PhD in aeronautical engineering from the University of Limerick and is a faculty member at the International Space University. A passionate advocate of Stem in schools, she is a scientist-astronaut candidate with Project Possum, a Space Foundation initiative, and hopes to be Ireland's first person in space.
“Role models are vital if young people are to be inspired and encouraged to consider committing to Stem educational pathways and potential careers. As the saying goes 'you can't be what you can't see'. Support, motivation and encouragement are fundamental and there are key people along everyone's journey who are influential in terms of subject and career choices,” she said.
“We need to continuously highlight the broad range of opportunities that come from studying Stem disciplines. The way to do this is to interact with the various stakeholders - parents, teachers, students, career guidance counsellors and others - and showcase what studying Stem can open up for boys and girls.”
AbbVie recently announced a €113 million expansion in oncology-focused manufacturing technology at its Ballytivnan site. The investment will create approximately 100 new jobs over the course of three years in a variety of technical and manufacturing positions.
According to Ballytivnan site director Columba McGarvey, a research-driven innovative company like AbbVie which is expanding its footprint in Ireland, has to be proactive in its support of Stem in local communities.
“Ireland has a highly developed employee talent base but the global market is very competitive and it is still incredibly important to help cultivate and foster our future talent pipeline,” he said.
“The products manufactured by companies in the Irish life sciences sector are highly innovative and positively impact millions of people around the world. However, young students, perhaps like many in wider Irish society, may not fully understand this pioneering industry and fail to appreciate the incredible career paths that could be available to them.”
Promoting Stem study
Speaking about the event, professor Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland and chief scientific adviser to the Government of Ireland, said; “I am delighted to see this important campaign being launched. At Science Foundation Ireland we are committed to improving student perceptions of Stem, and are supportive of efforts to bring them into contact with superb role models.”
Encouraging our young people to become involved in Stem from an early age is crucial to guiding them towards a future that is both enjoyable and rewarding. Working with industry and schools across Ireland to generate innovative and impactful ideas will help us achieve this, and inspire others to do the same.”