Futurelab Fuels Curiosity and Prepares Students for a Career in STEM

Genentech’s Futurelab expands biotech education to more than 2 million high school students and future innovators.

We’ve made a bold commitment to Transform Society, and one of the ways we believe we can do that is by strengthening the scientific and medical workforce so it reflects the diversity of the people it serves. Our new enterprise-wide initiative, Kindergarten to Careers, was launched in 2021 to support all stages of the education continuum, with a focus on communities of color, and to evolve our own business practices to ensure a more representative workforce at Genentech and within the broader healthcare industry. Removing barriers to educational opportunities in STEM fields and enabling early-in-career opportunities at Genentech and across the biotech industry is a key step toward achieving a healthier and more equitable society.

Children are innately curious, and inspiring a love of science should start early too. That’s why we founded Futurelab in 2015 to generate excitement about STEM in students from kindergarten through high school. Futurelab currently supports 9,000 South San Francisco students and their teachers with mentoring for elementary students through Gene Academy, an annual Helix Cup science competition embedded in eighth-grade science curriculum, a 4-year high school biotech pathway and innovative teaching lab called Science Garage, and scholarships for students pursuing STEM studies in college. We’ve invested more than $32 million in science education in the South San Francisco Unified School District since 2015, including 65,000+ employee volunteer hours.

The more kids that come to programs like [Futurelab’s] Science Garage, the higher chance that one of us will end up discovering a life-saving drug or finding a cure for cancer.

- Joncarlo, Futurelab High School Student

Now, we’re building on the success of Futurelab by scaling the program to high schoolers across the Bay Area, throughout California and beyond. Futurelab+ represents an additional $10 million commitment to expand the Futurelab curriculum to reach more than 2 million high school students — many from historically underrepresented communities — by 2026. Futurelab+ will also create a teacher incubator to train educators and bring in more volunteers from the biotechnology and STEM community to show students the possibilities for building careers in these fast-growing fields.

From a Passion for Science to a Career Path

Joncarlo has loved science since before he could balance himself on a bike: As a little boy, he devoured books his parents brought home, and by the time he was a physics-fascinated third grader, he was light years ahead of his classmates. “What intrigued me about science was it was applicable to the world — it could make life better,” he says.

His talent and curiosity propelled him into the Helix Cup competition for middle schoolers, part of Genentech’s Futurelab partnership with the South San Francisco Unified School District. His team’s project — creating a time-release pill — earned them the coveted Helix Cup. “I never imagined myself winning such a large competition,” Joncarlo says. “It was incredible to achieve this with my teammates.”

From the Helix Cup, Joncarlo went on to Science Garage, the Futurelab program offering advanced biotechnology instruction to high school students. Through it, Joncarlo and his classmates have learned lab skills and examined the science behind COVID-19 vaccines and the ELISA testing process for measuring antibodies in blood. “Both the knowledge I am gaining and the experience collaborating with students who have the same passion I do is priceless,” says Joncarlo, now a junior.

Making his family proud was also priceless. His father immigrated from Guatemala and his maternal grandparents relocated from Puerto Rico and Mexico — and neither set of grandparents had the opportunity to finish elementary school. They always stressed to Joncarlo the value of education. As he looks forward to college and pursuing a career in biotechnology, his childhood excitement over science continues to bubble over and drive him along his path. “Biotechnology has the capability to save millions of lives and eradicate diseases,” Joncarlo says. “The more kids that come to programs like Science Garage, the higher chance that one of us will end up discovering a life-saving drug or finding a cure for cancer.”