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25 April, 2022 - 11:01 By Tony Quested

Cambridge launchpad as Illumina targets five million STEM learners

Cambridge is today unveiled as the launchpad for the biggest long-term initiative ever unveiled on this side of the Atlantic to get more youngsters involved in STEM careers – thanks to US genomics giant Illumina.

A DNA Day STEM jamboree in Cambridge today will be just the start of a long-term strategy by Illumina, whose EMEA head office is at Granta Park.

Today Illumina and Cambridge LaunchPad joined forces in an historic venture to take the DNA Day programme to UK schools for the first time. Cambridge was chosen for the launch as the founding cradle of DNA discovery and genomics advancements.

But Illumina told Business Weekly that the implications of the initiative are significantly more far-reaching.

Simon Humphrey, regional lead for CSR and Sustainability (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) at Illumina, revealed the immense future scale and reach of Illumina’s STEM strategy.

He said Illumina’s global efforts had already nurtured 800,000 STEM learners but the company plans over the next 12 months to increase its reach and impact – initially in the Greater Cambridge area, but then more broadly across the UK, and in Europe and the Middle East “where we have an expanding footprint and offices.”

Humphrey added: “We aim to reach five million STEM learners globally by 2030. The efforts are linked to not only supporting diversity in STEM but also about engaging our employees in their community.

“Illumina’s objective is to build science capital in young people and inspire them to choose the education pathways that can lead to them having successful and rewarding careers. 

“We are not brand new to this, but we have recognised the need to raise awareness of Illumina and the work that we do, the impact of the wider industry we work in – and show – through outreach work directly and in partnership; how it is changing lives now and will transform human health in the future.”

Humphrey said Illumina’s goals included:-

  • Engaging its employees to inspire the next generation to usher in the future of personalized medicine.
  • Developing tools for educators.
  • Creating an educational community.
  • Inspiring community partners & educators.
  • Removing barriers to ensure equitable access to STEM.

Humphrey added: “We do this with a blend of direct programming, support for nonprofit partners, and employee engagement activities. We are in talks with a number of established organisations in the Cambridge area and nationally to support the delivery of activities and engagement, which will see a long-term investment in our communities, building science capital, inspiring young people and celebrating the genomics as such an important revolution of our time. 

“We will be working with local schools, collaborating with other businesses and existing STEM initiatives, locally and nationally to achieve this.

“Importantly, our STEM activities align with our CSR Focus Areas (empowering communities, integrating environmental sustainability, expanding access to genomics, operating responsibly and nurturing our people) and to UN sustainable development goals and, ultimately, our company mission of improving human health by unlocking the power of the genome.”

A recent study by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) estimated the current talent shortage within the UK STEM sector to be 173,000 workers. 

Of the businesses surveyed, about half expect this shortage to impact their ability to operate and grow. The IET recommendations, cited in an open letter to the Prime Minister last November, highlighted the need for an increase in investment, resource, and collaboration between industry and the early education sector.

Illumina’s new partnership with Cambridge Launchpad which became flesh with today’s schools initiative, aims to address this careers-centric valley of death.

DNA Day has historically been a national day of celebration in the US, celebrating the discovery and understanding of DNA and the scientific advancements it has enabled. In previous years, Illumina’s DNA Day programme of events and resources have reached 50,000 students in the US. 

Today around 2,000 primary and secondary students across Cambridgeshire are taking part in hands-on activities to learn how to extract DNA from a strawberry! Well Cambridge did give Raspberry Pi to the world so this is another prime pick.

By bringing genomics programmes into the classroom in exciting ways, the programme aims to ignite curiosity and inspire the next generation to see themselves as future scientists and innovators.

The activities were being provided by Illumina alongside career talks from its employees to showcase the wealth of careers available in STEM. 

Alongside delivering Cambridge LaunchPad project days, Illumina is also exploring other ways of engaging young people in STEM including creating bespoke free resources for science teachers, as part of Cambridge LaunchPad’s newly launched Resource Hub. 

Cambridge LaunchPad is managed by Form the Future whose CEO Anne Bailey said: “We are delighted to welcome Illumina to the Cambridge LaunchPad programme. 

“Its ethos aligns with ours. Illumina will undoubtedly help to bring STEM to life for school children and young people, providing valuable insights and role models at key stages of their development.”

• PHOTOGRAPH: Simon Humphrey – courtesy of Illumina.

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