Representatives from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) joined Assemblyman Francisco Moya inside a 9th grade biology class on Thursday afternoon to announce a $2,000 grant for the charter school.
The money will be used to grow the school’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes.
“The STEM program here is so important because you’re getting some real hands-on experience,” said Laura Perloff, director of advocacy and strategic alliance at PhRMA. “That experience is going to help you for what’s coming down the road, whether it’s in college or maybe a career in the pharmaceutical industry.”
PhRMA, based in Washington, D.C., supports pharmaceutical companies that develop, discover and manufacture new treatments and cures. Perloff said these companies always need well-educated and highly skilled workers who have STEM experience.
“But pharmaceutical companies often have more jobs available than people who are able to fill them,” she said. “That’s because there just aren’t enough people educated in the areas that we need.”
She noted that more than 50,000 people in New York work in the industry. On average, their salaries are more than twice the national average.
Moya, who now chairs the Science and Technology Committee in the Assembly, pitched STEM fields to the students as a “great opportunity” for well-paying, impactful jobs.
“STEM is really the way of the future for so many young kids,” he said. “What we want you to do is have an idea of what those possibilities may be.”
Moya added that there is a disparity of wages and career paths among communities of color. Especially in a diverse neighborhood like Jackson Heights, Moya said he sees investment in STEM programs as an “opening for us to really solve that problem.”
“Maybe right now, you’re like, ‘I don’t know what this is yet,’” Moya said to the students. “But pay attention, because this can be a wonderful future for you. You can be the next Steve Jobs.”
Principal Stacey Gauthier said the school’s STEM programs have already expanded over the last few years, including hiring a new administrator for science education to oversee the program.
“We feel it’s very important that we keep expanding on what we’re doing,” she said. “We always feel like we’re one step behind because of the advances in science.”
This year, the school introduced an Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science course for students. Gauthier said they also have an agriculture program, complete with a rooftop greenhouse, urban farming and sustainability, and a robotics program.
Renaissance Charter School, which is a K-12 school with nearly 570 students, also offers a leadership programs in engineering for students.
“We think it’s the wave of the future,” she said about STEM fields. “We think it’s a career they should be thinking of.”
When Gauthier surveyed the class to see how many students were interested in STEM-related careers, only a few raised their hands. She said for some students, science “still feels very textbook” to them.
“We’re working hard to show them that it’s not just textbook, there are jobs you can get in this,” Gauthier said. “Real-life applications, that’s hard with math and science, but we’re trying to do our best with it.”