Pierce receives grant to further science education

The Foundation for Pierce College will receive $241,920 over the next two years as part of a grant from the Amgen Foundation to fund the Amgen Biotech Experience, aiming to provide a more hands-on science education to the campus.

Sherry Tsai is in charge of overseeing the program in the Los Angeles area. She took on the position of site director after Marty Ikkanda retired, a professor of biological sciences from Pierce who joined the program two decades ago.

More than 20,000 students are taught through this program in southern California alone, with nine other sites across the United States and the United Kingdom.

“I think that it’s a great program that really impacts the LA area,” Tsai said. “It’s a very valuable program.”

The funds given to Pierce College will help extend science education to other schools in the area, giving teachers the necessary skills and equipment to pass this knowledge to interested high school and middle school students.

Pierce is the center of the program in the Los Angeles area. The grant from Amgen is directed to the Foundation, which then distributes the funds to the other centers for the program in the state.

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Karin Steinhauer, coordinator for the Pierce site and lead laboratory technician, organizes and runs the workshops where teachers are given the knowledge necessary to run the program in their classrooms, as well as sending out the equipment needed for the program curriculum. $20,000 worth of equipment is given in packages, as well as general assistance when there are questions from teachers and students.

“This is a really good example of how industry can directly help the school districts,” Steinhauer said. “This is one of the few ways the kids can still get hands-on learning.”

The training, curriculum, equipment and supplies are offered for free; the schools just need to ask for the training and then send the teachers to the workshops. The curriculum is even aligned to the STEM requirements for education. The program only covered schools in Conejo, California in the first years, but now the LA sites cater to over 200 schools in the area.

“The program was started in 1990 by a group of Amgen scientists and local educators,” said Kristen Davis, one of Amgen’s media contacts that deals with questions related to company philanthropy, among other topics.

The program expanded its curriculum in 1999 with the help of Ikkanda, and continued to grow in size each year.

“The Amgen Foundation supports science education efforts that provide pivotal, hands-on science experiences for students,” Davis said.

Amgen has committed more than $8 million to the project in schools since it began in 1990, according to a press release. The grants act to stem the tide against the ever-present cutbacks and limited resources for schools, allowing the growth of these programs and students.

The Los Angeles site also receives funding from a grant given by the California Community College Life Science Biotechnology Initiative, allowing further aid and reach for the program.

Alongside support for the biotechnology program, Amgen has donated more than $80 million in science education funding to non-profit organizations around the world, according to a press release.