May 18, 2023

Illumina Ensures ‘The Future Is Bright’ for Young Scientists Globally

Illumina employees visited Mr. Lockey’s high school classroom in Hayward, California, to engage students in career chats and genomics experiments. Left to right: Shima Kazerooni, Nassim Ataii, Timothy Yu, Rakesh Narayan, Niyati Bedekar.

Illumina recently wrapped up The Future Is Bright, a global genomic literacy campaign connecting employees with K-12 students both virtually and in-person. The month-long educational program was launched in April 2021 to celebrate DNA Day on April 25—which honors the discovery of the DNA double-helix structure and the completion of The Human Genome Project—and for Illumina employees to participate in National Volunteering Month, observed throughout April. The program engages students in career panels, genomics curriculum and hands-on in-classroom experiments led by Illumina employees and educators. Tiana Austel, senior specialist of corporate social responsibility at Illumina, co-led the launch of the program and says The Future Is Bright reached 10,000 students in its first year and this April, connected with 100,000-plus students in eight countries.

Highlights of this year’s initiative include:

  • 2,300 DNA extraction kits were donated to schools, giving 64,000 students the opportunity to extract and study DNA from strawberries.
  • 370-plus Illumina employees across nine countries met with students in-person for career chats.
  • 78 percent of participating classrooms in the U.S. are Title 1* schools located in underserved communities
  • As a partner of the program, Biocom California’s Generation STEAM helped deliver all the Bay Area and San Diego programming and coordinated many of the in-person visits at nearly 50 classrooms at 13 schools.

“The goal in launching the program was to spark curiosity about science and genomics in young students, and to help build a diverse pipeline of future engineers, researchers, and scientists in the long-term. We need diverse students for more diverse ideas in the field,” Austel says. Looking ahead to 2024, plans are in the works for more career chats with Illumina employees for next year’s campaign.

Illumina’s STEM outreach and educational efforts are year-round and ongoing. Illumina hosts student tours at its San Diego headquarters twice a month, where Generation STEAM has been a guest. The students are provided a glimpse of what happens at a world-wide genomics company and are able to view some of Illumina’s sequencing technologies. Many of the visiting students attend Title 1 schools in the San Diego area and are not aware about the future STEM career opportunities that are available to them–and that these opportunities exist near their communities.

“Generation STEAM is privileged to work with industry leaders like Illumina who strive to set the bar for our future workforce. They understand that it takes collaborating with many organizations to support an ever-evolving ecosystem of learners as we set out together to grow the talent pipeline for our communities,” says Sara Pagano, managing director of Generation STEAM. “Showing students a window to their future means showing them their potential can rise above all obstacles. Illumina has many outstanding community partners in this endeavor and we are honored to be able to support this work.”

The Future Is Bright initiative, along with Illumina’s other programming and volunteer work aimed at driving equitable access to STEM education, has reached more than 1.2 million students in 11 countries worldwide since 2019.

*Title 1 schools located in underserved communities that receive federal funding for academics, and where children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment.