Plant PCR at Citizen Science Lab. Photo by Ben Filio.

This school year, thousands of Pittsburgh students will join a worldwide movement for better biotech.

The California-based multinational biopharmaceutical company Amgen, Inc. has announced that Pittsburgh is the 10th city in the U.S. (and 20th worldwide) to implement its innovative science education program, the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE).

The program, which grew out of collaborations with California high schools in the late 1980s, provides secondary school teachers with free training, curriculum and supplies to bring hands-on, molecular biology education into their classrooms.

The program is supported in Pittsburgh by a two-year, $693,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

“The solutions to humanity’s biggest challenges — from healthcare to the environment — will be tackled by future scientists, some who may have their passion sparked through the Amgen Biotech Experience,” said Scott Heimlich, vice president of the Amgen Foundation. “We’re grateful that the Richard King Mellon Foundation is working with us to bring hands-on biotechnology experiences to the students of Pittsburgh.”

Though the official announcement came on Oct. 9, teachers from a number of local school districts have already been training for several weeks at The Citizen Science Lab in the Hill District and South Hills.

The Citizen Science Lab is a local nonprofit dedicated to bringing STEM education to underserved communities. Since launching in 2015, the organization has served more than 3,000 students. Plans are currently underway to open a third lab in Beaver County.

Pittsburgh has a lot to offer as far as informal science education experiences,” said Andre Samuel, president and CEO of The Citizen Science Lab, and ABE Pittsburgh program director. “The problem is many of these programs are not accessible to the youth who need it in the neighborhoods that need it. This program allows us to train teachers who can then bring it back to their classrooms.”

He added: “That’s one of the reasons we are excited to partner with the Amgen Foundation — to bring this hands-on science learning experience to our local high school students and teachers in Pittsburgh.”

Participating districts include Pittsburgh Public Schools, City Charter High School, Propel Schools, Upper St. Clair School District and Bethel Park School District. The program’s goal is to reach 6,000 students in the first year and 12,000 in the second.

Worldwide, the ABE is aiming to reach 900,000 young learners by 2020.

“Our goal,” said Heimlich, “is to create classroom experiences that will inspire students and ignite their interest in careers in science.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.