This summer, two JA Fellows students from Lincoln High School had the opportunity to participate in a paid internship with Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ San Diego Learning Lab. Leslie and Fernando spent their summer in and out of the lab learning how to operate lab equipment, participating in the drug discovery process, and gaining general workplace skills.
Leslie and Fernando had an interest in STEM prior to applying for the internship program. Leslie was curious about learning how medicines are made, while Fernando had taken engineering and advanced science classes and wanted to learn more about the different fields in STEM.
During their time at Vertex, both students developed their soft and technical skillsets. They gained firsthand insights into how the scientific process works and how scientists work together and use innovation to solve problems. As they journeyed through Vertex’s signature Making Medicine curriculum, students learned foundational skills in biotechnology including micropipetting, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. They learned how to take quality notes, analyze results, and have patience and ask good questions when things did not go as expected. The students were able to learn how these skills are applied to the process of drug discovery.
“At Vertex, we want to inspire and equip the next generation to love science and understand the many career options available in STEM. Our paid high school internship enables students to further explore their interest in science, work on real projects, and experience what it’s like to work at a biotech company,” said Debrah Fine, Associate Director and Head of the San Diego Learning Lab at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
The internship experience at Vertex strengthened the students’ interest to pursue a career in the STEM fields. Prior to the internship, Leslie was primarily interested in the healthcare field. She is now looking to become a medical lab technician.
“It’s helped me know what I want in life,” said Fernando who now sees a STEM career as a realistic and tangible career for himself. “This experience helped me find the type of person I am in a work environment… [and] a career path that I’m more interested in.”
Leslie and Fernando stated that the JA Fellows program played an influential role in helping them secure their internships. The students heard about the opportunity through the JA Fellows program when a career panel composed of Vertex employees came to speak with their class.
“I signed up because it [was] based on making medicines and working in a lab. Since I’m in school, I don’t really do lab work,” said Leslie. “[It’s] the first job that I gained skills from, so I was thankful that I actually applied for it.”
The knowledge and skills Leslie and Fernando learned through JA Fellows helped to prepare them to succeed as interns.
“When I went to that job, you have to be really professional. And that’s what I learned from JA. When we have practice interviews, we have to dress professional and that’s what I did when [Vertex was] interviewing,” said Leslie.
Leslie additionally learned how to network and stay connected with colleagues and other professionals through LinkedIn.
“I feel that JA has prepared me for this internship because they first taught me the essential key of communication,” said Fernando. “Also, [JA] helped me with my time management. At Vertex, we have to do a lot of projects at times and have to do a lot of time management, especially in laboratory work.”
Leslie and Fernando’s stories demonstrate the value of providing internships and other work-based learning opportunities to students. These experiences play a key role in developing young people’s skillsets, inspiring them to explore different career pathways, and serving as a steppingstone into their futures.