eCLOSE Institute

Organizational mission statement (50 words or less): 

To make medically relevant scientific discoveries using an educational platform that embraces equality and empowers participants to contribute ideas, life experience and experimental data to improve disease treatment.

Brief description of organization (include key programs and recent achievements, 100 words or less):

The first and only citizen science program for biomedicine, eCLOSE provides training programs where all participants contribute data and ideas, uncovering dietary interventions for disease, removing selectivity, celebrating culture, and providing exceptional research experiences. Level 1 Classroom: Science teachers train as principal investigators, bringing ~100 students/year into cancer/diabetes research. >1000 students (80% Title 1) contributed in 2019. Level 2 Camp: 6th-10th graders advance classroom projects, pinpointing genetic targets of dietary compounds.  Level 3 Undergraduate Bridge: Undergraduates train in developmental/cell biology, biochemistry, and behavior/population research, equivalent to graduate school rotations. Level 4 Workforce: Adults gain technical training to acquire paid internships.  

 

Population served (25 words or less):

Participants range from 6th grade to retired, with >80% from inner city environments, and >60% from under-represented minority, low income, or first-generation college student families.

 

Geographic area(s) served: 

Philadelphia metro and New Jersey (86%), California (6.5%), Colorado (1.5%), Iowa (3%), Illinois (1.5%), Virginia (1.5%). We are currently expanding nationwide using the hybrid approach that leverages home laboratories with virtual instruction we developed in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is your organization’s work primarily? 

Education

 

Does the organization already receive support from or otherwise engage life science companies? If so, how? 

The BULB workforce development program is a collaboration with the University City Science Center, which provides financial support. Life Science employees from Thermo-Fisher, University City Science Center, Integral Molecular, Century Therapeutics, EMSCO, HSX Market Street, IC@3401, SwanBio Therapeutics, Harmony Biosciences, LabXchange, and Edvotek participated as mentors and career speakers in BULB and summer camp programs, with several speakers returning to support presentations in the Undergraduate Bridge program in Summer 2020. Employees from Merck and University City Science Center are valued members of the eCLOSE Advisory Board. Employees at Janssen and Thermo Fisher are regular mentors, career speakers, and financial supporters (~$850/year). We receive discounts and supply/equipment donations from Edvotek, AmScope, Qiagen, and Genesee/FlyStuff. Most importantly, life science companies are hiring our participants. One of our former student participants who is now an eCLOSE Scientific Instructors was recently hired at GSK, and 4/12 participants in the BULB workforce development program were offered paid internships or fellowships (2 accepted) at life science companies. 

Please outline existing volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any current virtual volunteer events:

 

1) Most of our participants have never heard of careers in Life Sciences other than medicine and nursing. Volunteers present their career trajectories, experience, and advice on the skills needed and requirements for given positions, and answer questions from participants that delve deeper into the steps needed to advance in particular career paths. Speaker opportunities are available in Summer Camps and BULB/Workforce development currently. Upcoming programming for homeschoolers will present additional speaker opportunities. 2) eCLOSE hosts an Annual Symposium where classroom participants present their research findings to the scientific community and gain career advice from speakers in a Plenary Session. We aim to have a scientist at every poster (there were 120 posters in 2019) during presentation times to engage the new researchers with questions to further their understanding of the project details and its potential implications for health. We also welcome Plenary Session speakers, particularly those with unusual career paths who have overcome challenges that resonate with our community of inner city participants. 3) The Undergraduate Bridge participants conduct self-designed, original research focused on the mechanistic impact of diet on signaling.  We welcome volunteers to visit the program (currently 100% virtual) to provide opportunities for students to explain their projects and reasoning, and interact with professionals in science.  4) The majority of eCLOSE programs involve Presentation Day, where students present their results and draw conclusions related to the basic science and to potential health impacts.  We have a great need for scientists to participate, ask questions of the participants and let them know that the professional scientific community is interested in their work.  4) The eCLOSE Advisory Board is comprised 100% of volunteers, with expertise covering the breadth of eCLOSE goals and objectives. The Advisory Board currently has one life science company employee, an IT expert from Merck.

Please outline proposed or potential future volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any planned virtual volunteer events:  

1) eCLOSE is scaling rapidly, in response to tremendous demand for high quality science education that is accessible virtually, and recognition of the quality and success of our programs. Volunteer consultants to assist in strategic planning, marketing, fundraising, and, most importantly, determination of best practices for storage and access to the massive amounts of biomedical research data generated by our participants will be welcomed with open arms.  2) We are committed to hiring eCLOSE program participants as paid scientific technicians to prepare lab stations and experimental kits.  We will be welcoming volunteer scientific professionals with lab experience to work side-by-side with our technician workforce to prepare materials (pipetting, solution making, sorting fruit flies by gender and phenotype, etc), pack boxes, and expand the networks of our staff via volunteer co-workers. 3) Many life science companies have materials or supplies that expire or old equipment that is replaced.  We would welcome the support of Life Science Cares to source lab supplies and equipment for use in our programs, especially for outfitting under-resourced inner city classrooms with lab equipment. 4) Workforce development and retention in science is a primary eCLOSE goal. Help identifying internships, part-time positions, co-ops, or other employment opportunities for participants at all eCLOSE levels will both sustain our participants in science and transform job prospects, particularly for Philadelphia residents who have been traditionally marginalized from scientific careers. Well-paid positions for college students will enable eCLOSE graduates to remain in college, despite the high costs of a STEM degree.

GRANT REQUEST 

 

Please signify the type of support you are requesting from Life Science Cares:

 

Programming (new or expanded)

 

Project Title:

 

eCLOSE Pipeline2Work

 

Total Project Budget (if applicable):

 

$247,600  (includes 12 Summer Camp sessions (192 participants @$300 each=$57,600), 4 Undergraduate Bridge programs (72 participants @$1250 each=$90,000), and 3 BULB programs (36 participants @$2500 each=$90,000, plus the requested $10,000 from LSC to establish a Workforce Bridge).

 

Requested Amount: 

 

$10,000

 

In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is the requested project’s work?

 

Education

 

Description of Need (What is the issue you plan to address? What are the demographics and number of people you plan to serve, if applicable?):

 

eCLOSE tackles two major challenges: 1) the daunting task of uncovering new ways to improve cancer treatment and 2) the plummeting interest in science among high school and college students that leaves millions of STEM jobs unfilled. We train, include, and support high school students, teachers and adult learners as they define new dietary interventions for disease, creating a diverse, empowered, and committed network of newly minted researchers working with top notch scientific professionals to achieve the shared goal of conquering cancer.   Issues we will address:  Problem 1) Fewer than 1% of research faculty are from under-represented minority backgrounds. Perhaps more striking, the total percentage of Black scientists and engineers in Life Sciences is only 2.5% (including industry), and 5.9% for Hispanics.  These statistics are directly linked with egregious healthcare disparities. For example, African-American women are 4-fold more likely to die of breast cancer relative to all other demographics, and African-American and Hispanic women have higher rates of Human Papilloma Virus infection relative to other groups. Similar disparities continue for prostate, pancreas, gastric, and colorectal cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and neurodegeneration, emphasizing the widespread impact across life threatening diseases. Access to healthcare, health education, and a lack of research focused on these specific challenges all contributing. eCLOSE has the unprecedented opportunity to address major determinants of health disparities within Philadelphia, a city where the majority population is African-American, and more than 65% of our citizens hail from under-represented minority backgrounds.  Our goals are to educate Philadelphia high school students in biomedicine, prepare them for science majors in college, and support them in research careers to collectively address health disparities that impact their communities. Currently, fewer than 6% of Philadelphia public school students are awarded college degrees in science majors, with fewer than 1% from the African-American community. eCLOSE is turning those numbers upside down, with 75% of participants in advanced levels continuing in research in college, and 96% completing undergraduate STEM degrees. We anticipate building a fully-trained young, diverse workforce to transform biomedicine.    Problem 2) Philadelphia students often lack the financial ability to travel for science training experiences or work. We have had many students report that they were unable to participate in advanced programming due to transportation challenges or need to work during program hours. Our goal is to provide paid positions using our newly developed hybrid learning approach, so that students can earn wages in the safety of their own homes, to allow them to focus fully on their scientific training and make an enormous contribution to scientific research and their communities.    Problem 3) In order to create the experimental kits and tailored programming to meet the needs of our growing number of participants, we need to rapidly scale our workforce with limited resources.  Our goal is to create a homegrown workforce, with Philadelphia participants hired as eCLOSE Scientific Technicians and Instructors to further advance their scientific skills and prepare to pursue science in college while earning wages to help support themselves and their families.  Problem 4) Science is currently an elite field, with entry level positions often requiring Ph.D.s in biomedical science. Through eCLOSE, we have demonstrated that rigorous training and inclusion transform non-scientists into contributing members of the scientific community, challenging the prevailing view that decades of education is a necessity for entry into the scientific workforce.   Goals: Our goal is to train adult learners in the University City Science Center program as managers for our growing workforce of student interns, providing eCLOSE with a deeply committed community of grass roots professionals who will establish a pipeline of STEM success within Philadelphia.  Our employees will gain the bridging experience needed to acquire jobs in academics or the biopharmaceutical sector and to pursue the advanced certifications or college courses necessary to excel in their burgeoning scientific careers.    Program participants: In 2021, we will train 196 students in summer camp programs, 72 in undergraduate bridge programs, and 36 in BULB. In 2020, program participants were >63% female and >61% Black/African-American and Hispanic, with an additional 20% from Asian minority backgrounds. We anticipate hiring 10 students as Scientific Technicians.  In addition, 60 total BULB participants will be trained by the end of 2021.  We anticipate hiring 1-3 BULB graduates as Technician Managers. We typically guarantee a minimum of 50% of hiring slots to Philadelphia residents, under-represented minorities and women, with a current workforce that is 56.25% under-represented minorities and 75% women.  Use of funds: Life Science Cares funding will help us establish the infrastructure needed for on-the-job training for managers and interns, manage large scale citizen science projects, monitor project progress, provide feedback and support to managers and interns, and interface with biopharma to ensure that required skills are a central focus of the eCLOSE bridging experience.  

 

Specific Activities (Please detail what activities you intend to undertake as a result of the grant. Include information about service delivery and timelines.):

 

LSC funds will enable us to: 1) create hybrid training programs including purchase of research stations for new Scientific Technicians and instruction by BULB-intern managers, and 2) create a technology platform that organizes projects, tracks work hours, ensures quality control of prepared samples, and records skills and expertise gained by managers and interns to ensure timely promotions and advancing through the bridge training programs. Education aspects of the program will be paid for using other resources, with LSC funds bridging the education programs into workforce development. Educational components:  1) Summer camps:  Participants in 8th-10th grade will learn basic laboratory skills in the context of conducting research to define the impact of nutrients on cancer and diabetes signaling. Focused on development of skills that apply math to life science problems, and integration with chemistry (measuring, solution making, molarity, percentage, weight/mass calculations), developmental biology (life cycle, genetics, phenotype/genotype, microscopy, statistics), and behavior (population studies, food choice, junk food diet), camps provide professional level technical and conceptual training to prepare students for more advanced eCLOSE programs or junior Scientific Technician positions.  2) Undergraduate Bridge:  Designed for high school seniors and early undergraduates, eCLOSE UG Bridge programs provide the experience of a graduate school rotation to young students.  After an introductory “boot camp” where participants create all reagents needed to conduct experimental programming, individual projects are developed.  Participants ask a research question, develop a hypothesis, and create an experimental plan to test the hypothesis, with a focus on challenges specific to their cultural communities. All projects are original, and address how nutrients, environmental toxins, or genes targeted by viruses like HPV or COVID-19 impact health and development.  Participants in both Summer Camp and UG Bridge present their results to the scientific community, with participation from LSC members enhancing all programs in Summer 2020.  UG Bridge participants will be hired as Scientific Technicians.  3) BULB: A partnership with the University City Science Center, BULB recruits adults from West Philadelphia and trains them in the technical skills needed to transition into careers in biomedicine and biotechnology. eCLOSE provides program instruction in molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, and translational research, as well as basic skills covered in student-focused programming. BULB participants have been hired for internships by University City Science Center partners, demonstrating the success of the programming. We plan to hire BULB graduates as managers for our growing Scientific Technician workforce.  Numerous opportunities will present themselves for volunteer participation by LSC members: 1) LSC scientists can participate in presentation days as career speakers and reviewers of presented projects, providing broad perspective on the impact of student research and the steps needed to achieve in science in the biomedical and pharmaceutical tracks. Participation by LSC members in Summer 2020 was a highlight of the Summer Camp and UG Bridge programming. 2) Data collection is a key aspect of eCLOSE programming that is currently in development.  Engagement of LSC members will provide expertise on best practices for data collection and access as we build capacity and generate data of use to academic and industry scientists. 3) Support for business development and fundraising strategic planning is another open opportunity for LSC business volunteers. Our 100% volunteer Advisory Board would welcome LSC members. 4) With planned exponential growth of eCLOSE programs, we welcome volunteers to help pack experimental kits, particularly for classroom programs and our planned nationwide project that we hope will generate tens of thousands of data points for cancer and diabetes research while raising money for eCLOSE student program scholarships and teacher training programs. 5) Help from LSC members in identifying internships, fellowships, co-ops, or other employment opportunities will sustain eCLOSE participants in STEM and transform their job prospects. Development of the workforce training program and platform using LSC funds will be a catalyst for growth and increased volunteer opportunities.

 

Evaluation (What are the anticipated results?

 

What methods will you use to measure your progress? What does success look like?): We expect 1) to create a diverse, inclusive workforce of scientists from the Philadelphia metro region, resulting in a homegrown pipeline of scientific training and workforce development that promotes and supports STEM education while building economic stability among participants traditionally marginalized from science, 2) increase research literacy among participants to prepare them for continued STEM studies and increased ownership of health decisions, 3) support participants to gain employment in research, biotech and pharma.  To measure success we will use: 1) SALG survey: SALG surveys have a core questions that can be compared nationwide, focused on the impact of undergraduate research experiences on STEM success. We modified the SALG to apply to all eCLOSE programming, enabling participants to report gains in content knowledge, peer interactions, enjoyment, technical skills, communication skills, "feeling like a scientist", and interest in pursuing STEM and research careers.

2) Quantitative measures: Numbers of students who pursue more advanced eCLOSE opportunities is an important success measure, with 40% of Summer Camp participants expected to continue to our Undergraduate Bridge program in preparation for college entrance, based on past success. Numbers of undergraduates attaining research positions in college, and numbers of BULB participants gaining employment in industry will also be measured. BULB participants complete a Modified WPSI (West Philadelphia Skills Initiative) survey: created in FormAssembly and focused on the impact of laboratory technical training on Philadelphia residents. BULB collects self-reports on items related to "Use of equipment for other programming" and if participants "feel like they are building or part of a new science community".


3) Qualitative measures: Participants in all eCLOSE programs and collaborative programs are invited to respond to open-ended prompts such as “please share your thoughts on the programming” and “Will you share what you learned with family, friends or community groups? If so, with who and why?” The candid responses we received in Summer 2020, with permission to share, included: “Great and high-quality hands-on lab experience! Impressed with the presenters and teachers.” and “Yes, I will share what I've learnt with my family and friends, any willing to listen.” I would share this knowledge with my younger cousins, so they may gain some more interest in science,
 
4) Rubrics will be used for skills assessments and gains in literacy and content knowledge. The collective assessment will be utilized upon completion of the programs for initiating the process of hiring participants as Scientific Technicians.

5) BULB managers and Scientific Technicians will receive performance reviews every 3 months, with opportunities to request additional responsibilities and management skills as they master prior tasks. 5) Participants will be encouraged to acquire a LinkedIn account, providing a method for longitudinal tracking of participant success in Life Sciences.

The BULB workforce development program is a collaboration with the University City Science Center, which provides financial support. Life Science employees from Thermo-Fisher, University City Science Center, Integral Molecular, Century Therapeutics, EMSCO, HSX Market Street, IC@3401, SwanBio Therapeutics, Harmony Biosciences, LabXchange, and Edvotek participated as mentors and career speakers in BULB and summer camp programs, with several speakers returning to support presentations in the Undergraduate Bridge program in Summer 2020. Employees from Merck and University City Science Center are valued members of the eCLOSE Advisory Board. Employees at Janssen and Thermo Fisher are regular mentors, career speakers, and financial supporters (~$850/year). We receive discounts and supply/equipment donations from Edvotek, AmScope, Qiagen, and Genesee/FlyStuff. Most importantly, life science companies are hiring our participants. One of our former student participants who is now an eCLOSE Scientific Instructor was recently hired at GSK, and participants in the BULB workforce development program have been offered paid internships or fellowships at life science companies.

 

EFFECTIVENESS, COLLABORATION, INNOVATION

Is there any other information not captured elsewhere regarding your organization, project, program or initiatives that you believe will help the Life Science Cares team in evaluating your request?

 

eCLOSE pairs science and education in unique ways.  Teams constructed of a professional scientist and professional teacher provide comprehensive education experiences that enable Instructors to learn and grow as they engage new scientists with superior communication and learning skills in concert with professional laboratory research approaches. The founders are women scientists and educators, with >60 years of collective experience and 7 years of working together to develop the programming that has evolved to become eCLOSE.  Our Executive Board is currently 100% women, with 2/3 under-represented minorities, numbers that are reflected by our diverse Advisory Board, Instructor team, and Scientific Technicians as well. We believe that inspiring scientists from every background requires role models who have shared their experiences and recognize when support is needed for continued success. The novelty of our approach has led to several exciting awards, including winning the American Public University Systems and Audience Choice Prizes at the 2019 Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition, Third Place in the Presence Learning and Teaching category at Reimagine Education (tied with Lego International who won third place in a different category!), 36 for 75 pitch competition, and a Greater Philadelphia Social Innovation Award in education technology in 2020. Invited presentations at the American Public Libraries conference, Genetics Society of America programs, and Virtual Café here in Philadelphia emphasize growing interest in the eCLOSE approach as a way to engage and educate students and the public using a new approach.  Partnerships with higher education institutions further emphasize this growing need.  We currently have grants under review in collaboration with Esperanza College, Rutgers University Newark, University of Iowa, Metro State University in Denver, CO, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.  We anticipate rapid growth of academic partnerships in 2021, adding to the expected growth of the program. At this point, we have engaged many Life Scientists from industry, including an incredibly supportive panel of LSC members in Summer 2020.  The added benefits that engagement of the pharmaceutical and biotech scientists have on our participants cannot be understated. A partnership with LSC will further build on those initial impacts, a reciprocal benefit as eCLOSE trains a generation of scientists who will be future employees of LSC member organizations.  As founders with academic backgrounds, the knowledge and wisdom of Life Science industry professionals will also be instrumental to us as we build our business strategy and develop our Philadelphia-based workforce.  Finally, eCLOSE is signing a lease for laboratory space, to begin December 1, 2020. This will support our growth efforts in addition to providing easy ways for LSC members to volunteer for sample preparation, research kit packing, mentoring, interaction with Scientific Technicians and Managers, and other opportunities.

 

How does your organization or program differentiate from other organizations doing similar work?

 

Are you executing or proposing to executive an innovation in program or service? eCLOSE is the first and only citizen science program for biomedicine. We are unique in our approach, which provides opportunities to engage in original disease research for people previously untrained in laboratory research. We also embrace the ideas of participants, developed by personal experience and knowledge of communities and families that experience health disparities. Our open minded, inclusive approach has generated exciting projects focused on improving cancer and diabetes care through dietary modification, examining the efficacy of dietary supplements or other treatments widespread in the public on health and disease, providing enhanced education and dietary interventions for disease prevention and improvement of public health. The participant-driven nature of eCLOSE programs engages and retains participants in STEM at rates so high, we are essentially inverting negative trends in inner city school for student pursuit of STEM careers. Companies such as Project Lead the Way provide hands-on experiments for classroom students to enhance science curricula.  The program is cost prohibitive for most schools, and still focused on the traditional approach that encourages students to “get the right answer” rather than the eCLOSE approach of “ask a new question”. Discovery Channel and most large education publishers offer digital learning tools to enhance STEM education as well.  eCLOSE takes this a big step further by having students conduct research using a hybrid approach that combines digital learning, personal attention from eCLOSE Instructors, and conducting bona fide research projects to promote ownership, achievement, and, most importantly, contribution to the greater scientific enterprise.  The proposed LSC grant will take this to an even higher level, with development of workforce training and a paired digital platform to coordinate projects and track progress, thus completing a full pipeline of biomedical workforce training.  The idea that students as young as 9th graders will begin their science careers through employment at eCLOSE, working together with near peers from the UG Bridge and Managers from BULB, is an entirely new innovation in science.  The experience of working with people from all cultural and economic backgrounds with a shared goal of conquering cancer and other diseases will transform the biomedical workforce and expand the breadth and depth of research.