Editor’s note: Maya Martinez-Davis, President US Pharmaceuticals, GSK

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – This week, children are gathering in community centers, libraries and on computers at home to try on the identity of STEM professional through hands-on activities led by science educators from UNC Morehead Planetarium & Science Center. During their “Be an Engineer!” classes, students will design a roller coaster and explore the concepts of potential and kinetic energy as the coaster climbs and falls.

These young engineers are taking part in the final week of GSK Science in the Summer, a free, inquiry-based community Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program we have proudly supported for the past 35 years. Since the program began in 1986 in Philadelphia, GSK has sought to inspire over 325,000 elementary school students with a life-long passion for science. Over the years, the program has grown and improved to remain fresh, engaging and relevant for children and has increased students’ interest and confidence in STEM subjects and to pursue STEM careers.

As a global healthcare company with a long history in the Triangle, we see firsthand the incredible growth of STEM professions and industries in the region. These well-paying careers provide the opportunity for bright minds to innovate and solve important challenges in healthcare, technology and the environment. Along with other STEM employers in the region, we know that we have a responsibility to help support and develop the innovators of the future in our own backyard.

But we also know that for too long, these important jobs have not been accessible to everyone. The lack of a diverse and representative STEM workforce limits our collective potential for innovation. Statistics from the National Science Foundation show that while women constitute 50% of the college-educated workforce, we comprise only 28% of the science and engineering workforce. Likewise, Black people, Hispanic people and Native Americans make up 27% of the adult US population – but only 11% of workers in science and engineering occupations.

GSK Science in the Summer is one way that GSK supports students from populations under-represented in STEM careers. Our curricula and activities are designed to help students see themselves as STEM professionals and ensure that students see people who look like them in the careers they are exploring and that the activities relate to experiences in their day-to-day lives.

And GSK’s mission to increase diversity in the STEM professions does not end in the classroom. Our new aspirational targets announced earlier this year would increase our ethnically diverse senior leaders from 23% to at least 30% in the US by the end of 2025. We know that we have an opportunity and obligation to do more to improve inclusion and diversity: for our people inside GSK; in the way we do business; and in the communities where we operate.

Children spend 6,000 hours awake every year, but only 1,000 in school. How can our industries help to enrich other hours with real-world STEM education that make students from all backgrounds feel that they belong among the innovators of the future to solve the myriad of challenges we all face?

For 35 years, we at GSK have inspired students’ love of science during the summer. Our hope is that the GSK Science in the Summer program can also inspire other businesses to support STEM education in the Triangle community, and in communities across the US, to develop our diverse STEM professionals of the future.