I’m feeling humbled today. The Biogen Idec Foundation, supporting one of the world’s leading global biotechnology companies and a Fortune 500 company with more than $4 billion in revenue, has awarded a generous grant to help bring Quest Atlantis to schools in Durham, North Carolina, one of its geographic areas of operation. I say I’m humbled because this is an organization that doesn’t NEED to do more good in the world. Biogen Idec is already a trusted medical partner to many who require their life-saving therapies or count on their support programs. Their research has spanned over 30 years of biotechnical contributions, supporting more than 20 products in Phase 2 clinical trials and producing therapies used in more than 90 countries. This is a company that is already doing much to make the world a better place, and the Foundation is equally committed to their community. And yet, they have decided to focus on ways of further improving people’s lives by contributing to science literacy in their community.
The Biogen Idec Foundation aims to provide students with innovative ways of exploring science literacy and hopes to introduce children to the prospect of one day entering into a career in science. Their grant specifically allows teachers in the Durham Public School system the opportunity to use the Taiga Water Quality unit. In this unit, students interact with virtual park rangers, loggers, fishermen, and indigenous people, uncovering the multiple perspectives surrounding the issue of the fish population declining in a river in a virtual national park. The students take water samples at three points along the virtual river, run these samples in a virtual lab (which scaffolds the learning of pH, turbidity, eutrophication, etc.), and use the resulting data to uncover where the problems in the water exist. Finally, they create a scientific report detailing a plan to bring life back to the river and ecosystem while balancing the needs of all the local peoples.
As students explore the situation, they are making important discoveries about how disciplinary learning can be a powerful tool for making meaningful changes in the world. Students are not only learning about the scientific water quality terms and processes; they are developing an understanding that science is actually a powerful tool they can use to solve problems and make a difference in the world, and the students themselves realize that this acquiring this knowledge is precisely what empowers them to solve these problems.
As I reflect on the current state of education in our country, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if more companies like Biogen Idec or its Foundation helped to empower children is such a way. What if more companies focused not just on company profits, but also choose to invest in their communities, in the children and in the future, to help students to care about disciplinary knowledge? What if we could help our students realize that understanding and enlisting academic content is one way to truly solve problems in the world? Just imagine how differently our students might approach their school day, and how their attitude towards education may change in the process, especially if they knew that profitable companies, not just their parents and school teachers, valued their contributions and chose to invest in their future. What a world of difference this kind of partnership could make for our students and for our schools.
Making a difference in the world through the use of science…Through their commitment to their patients, their employees and their support of education in their community, the Biogen Idec Foundation seems to be able to teach us all this very important lesson very well.