BioQuest Program Completes First Year Bringing Hands-On Science, STEM Mentoring to South Bronx Students

BioQuest Program Completes First Year Bringing Hands-On Science, STEM Mentoring to South Bronx Students


RTW Foundation, Areté Education, Hunts Point Alliance for Children, BioBus and Weill Cornell Medicine give future innovators from underrepresented communities unique opportunity to explore careers in science, biotechnology and medicine

New York, NY – RTW Foundation, Areté Education and Hunts Point Alliance for Children recently celebrated the completion of the inaugural year of ‘BioQuest by RTW Foundation.’ The academic year-long program engaged over 75 young students from underserved communities in the South Bronx to explore and become excited about careers in science, biotechnology and medicine. The program will return in the 2024-2025 academic year. 

Along with collaborative partners BioBus and Weill Cornell Medicine, the program by RTW Foundation connected students with mentors, hands-on lab activities, career exposure and enrichment field trips where participants learned about a wide range of careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). 

Founded as the philanthropic arm of RTW Investments, LP, a leading healthcare-focused entrepreneurial investment firm with deep scientific expertise and a strong track record of supporting companies developing life-changing therapies, RTW Foundation partners with organizations providing access to science-related education and healthcare services. A significant portion of their work and funding has been focused on New York City and since 2020 they have awarded $2.2 million to organizations across the boroughs, with a focus on health equity.

The BioQuest program consisted of six specialized events from September through April with a broad range of hands-on science activities at state-of-the-art labs with individualized guidance and support from mentors working in STEM fields.

They explored multicellular organisms and hands-on microscope experiments with BioBus; visited the Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS incubator space and conducted lab activities including extracting DNA from strawberries; and presented their innovative healthcare ideas at Innovation Day at Weill Cornell Medicine’s BioVenture eLab. 

At RTW Career Day, students learned about career paths in biotech and science, participated in a stock-picking exercise by looking at real life case studies from the medical technologies team and met the founder and managing partner of RTW Investments.

The BioQuest program received overwhelmingly positive feedback with many students reporting excitement about the education and career opportunities presented to them. Additionally, educators and leaders from partner organizations noted that participating students showed an increased interest in STEM education and careers.

“BioQuest teaches you more about science in a fun way,” said seventh grader Layla Abad-Torres. “The most exciting part of BioQuest was getting out of my comfort zone and trying something new,” said ninth grader Ashley Juarez. “I learned that you don’t have to stay in one place in life. Your career is like a journey,” said eleventh grader Jamil Batiz. 

“The enthusiasm of BioQuest students shows just how important it is for us to give young students from underserved communities exposure to STEM fields and help them pursue a rewarding career in the sciences,” said Marti Speranza Wong, board president of community engagement at RTW Foundation. “We are honored to work alongside Areté Education, Hunts Point Alliance for Children, BioBus and Weill Cornell Medicine on this powerful program and are excited to return next year to continue inspiring the next generation of innovators.”

“BioQuest allows students to see real science in action. The program provides a window into the actual work of scientists, connected not just to laboratories but also to the economy and to making a difference in our communities with breakthrough medicines and technologies. BioQuest mentors and partners open doors for our students from the South Bronx to explore career pathways in STEM with confidence and purpose,” said Gabriel Hernandez, executive director of Areté Education. 

“Many New York City students, particularly in underserved areas like the South Bronx, are not given adequate opportunities to learn about careers in the sciences. The BioQuest program addresses their untapped potential to be a part of the next generation of leaders in science, biotechnology and medicine. We’re thrilled to partner with RTW Foundation on this powerful program again next year,” said Hunts Point Alliance for Children executive director Natasha Atkins, MSW.

“Giving students hands-on science experiences and connecting them with scientist-mentors is a critical step in developing their confidence in the lab. As NYC grows as a hub for science, BioQuest is helping pave the path for youth in the South Bronx to pursue studies and professions that will move science forward for the benefit of all communities. We’re grateful to RTW Foundation for supporting this invaluable work,” said BioBus co-founder and executive scientific officer Latasha Wright, PhD. 

“The Diversity Center of Excellence at Weill Cornell Medicine is committed to increasing diversity within the physician workforce, and we are honored to be a part of the BioQuest program. This partnership with RTW Foundation gives students from underrepresented communities hands-on experience working in medicine and the inspiration to pursue careers in the field. This will in turn help combat health disparities, a critical issue that Weill Cornell Medicine is committed to addressing,” said Susana Morales, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine, general internal medicine and vice chair of diversity, Weill Department of Medicine.

“Many of us did not come from a background with family members in healthcare, science or the pharma industry,” Tingting Zhang-Kharas, PhD, head of JLABS Northeast at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, said to students. “But I hope the experience today will inspire you to follow your dreams and explore a career in life sciences or anything that you are passionate about!” 

RTW Foundation plans to expand the program to other areas of the city to reach more young students and encourages organizations interested in partnering with them on BioQuest to reach out. Schools, education nonprofits, academic institutions and any organizations working in STEM-related fields, including businesses, can play an important role in building the next generation of innovators. To learn more about partnership opportunities, contact Sarah Garwood at [email protected].