Daily CSR
Daily CSR

Daily CSR
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Illumina’s Summer Program: A Pathway to STEM Careers for Community College Students


Illumina’s Summer Program: A Pathway to STEM Careers for Community College Students
Recently, Illumina, in collaboration with the local nonprofit organization SD2, organized a comprehensive two-week paid summer program for 16 students from San Diego. This initiative aimed to provide underrepresented students with exclusive opportunities to explore STEM education and receive mentorship.
The participants, who were high school juniors and college freshmen, visited Illumina’s San Diego headquarters. Here, they had the chance to develop their lab skills, interact with Illumina employees, and gain insights into the various career paths available in the STEM field.
“It is crucial for Illumina to have a diverse workforce to support genomics and other STEM fields,” said Sharon Vidal, the company’s global head of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
“By investing in community programs that support equitable access to STEM education early in their education, we can help students see themselves being key contributors as they pursue careers in the life sciences.”
Fostering Diversity in STEM Fields
The program was conceived with the aim of encouraging students from varied backgrounds and providing a rewarding opportunity for Illumina employees to contribute to their community. Illumina and SD2 adopted a comprehensive approach to this “boot camp”. Recognizing that many participants grapple with issues such as food insecurity and lack of transportation, the organizers ensured the provision of meals and rides.

Over the course of two weeks, the rigorous curriculum provided students with a glimpse into potential STEM careers. This holistic approach not only offered academic exposure but also addressed the practical challenges faced by the students.
“We wanted the students to leave with a stronger sense of belonging in STEM,” said Karmin Noar, vice president of Strategic Growth at SD2.
“Most are low-income, first-generation students who come from underrepresented backgrounds, so it was really important for this to be a paid experience and provide opportunities for them to gain soft and technical skills.”
In the lab sessions, students were introduced to safety protocols, fundamental pipetting techniques, library preparation, and the diverse applications of genomics. Additionally, they received guidance on career and personal development to help them identify their strengths and articulate their experiences effectively. Each student was guided to craft an elevator pitch, compose a résumé, set up a LinkedIn profile, and establish a personal brand. This comprehensive approach aimed to equip the students with both technical skills and essential soft skills for their future careers.
“There was a massive shift in the way the interns carried themselves from the beginning of the program to the end,” said Vanessa Light, Illumina’s senior manager of CSR.
“By midweek, you could see the confidence in the way they walked the halls and engaged with employees. They knew they had a place at Illumina and were confident in the journey that had brought them here.”
The program served as a revelation for many of the participants. A student from a community college initially believed that all Illumina employees had pursued a direct path from high school to a four-year university. However, by the end of the program, he had interacted with scientists and other professionals who were first-generation students like him and had transitioned from a community college to a four-year university before securing a position at Illumina. These encounters motivated him to follow a similar trajectory in his own academic and professional journey.
“This experience changed the trajectory for many of our students,” said H. Puentes, SD2 co-founder, president, and CEO. “They left this experience inspired, knowledgeable, and confident to pursue careers in STEM.”