Editor’s note: Carrie Heinonen, President & CEO of the Museum of Life and Science, and Jon Stonehouse, President & CEO of BioCryst.


The Triangle is booming thanks in part to a thriving life sciences industry, top-tier academic institutions and healthcare facilities, and a quality of life that is among the most desirable in our country. According to a 2021 National Science Foundation (NSF) report, the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) workforce comprises 23 percent of the country’s total workforce – 36 million people – and is only expected to grow. STEM teaches skills that can help address some of the world’s most pressing problems, from developing needed medicines to combatting climate change and more. According to the NSF, those working in STEM report higher median earnings than non-STEM workers and have seen lower unemployment rates, even during the pandemic.

Despite this promising trend, minorities continue to be underrepresented among those who receive science and engineering degrees – a sign of a broader challenge that our society must address. And while our region hosts a high concentration of STEM-related jobs, another NSF report found that North Carolina was in the middle of the pack when ranking the percentage of its workforce employed in the STEM field (27 out of 50). Clearly, we have room to improve.

Jon Stonehouse, President & CEO of BioCryst.

This is why we must harness our region’s strengths to keep pace with the explosion of opportunities in this vital field. That includes deepening relationships and collaboration between industry and institutions to encourage our future innovators to explore the magic of STEM. This is what we’re doing through the newly launched Museum of Life and Science Sparks Afterschool Program powered by BioCryst, an educational collaboration between the organizations we lead: the Museum of Life and Science, and BioCryst, a Durham-based biotechnology company that is providing both the program’s funding and its volunteer support.

Each Wednesday after school, the program gathers 15 deserving students in grades five through eight from Durham’s Brogden Middle School for mentorship and STEM educational enrichment at the Museum of Life and Science. There, members of a dedicated 12-person team of BioCryst employees volunteer alongside Museum staff as trained mentors, engaging students in STEM-based activities focused on hands-on, problem-based learning, collaboration, and critical thinking. They listen, brainstorm, and co-create programs and activities together.

Carrie Heinonen, President & CEO of the Museum of Life and Science,

Along with STEM education, the program provides participants with consistent mentorship and ongoing adult engagement during their middle-school years, a crucial time for developing their identity as students, as well as a healthy sense of self and independence. To help support the success and engagement of student participants, funding from BioCryst also enabled the hiring of a Spanish-language translator and facilitated transportation for students to the Museum.

STEM education is one of the core areas BioCryst supports through its wider BioCryst Gives Back program, and the Museum offers a variety of other STEM-focused educational programs and experiences. The Triangle is also fortunate to have other great resources, such as the North Carolina Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center and STEM Research Triangle Park.

Our organizations both rely heavily on employees with strong STEM backgrounds, so we understand the importance of these skills and believe it’s imperative to increase opportunities to access STEM education. We are thrilled to collaborate with Brogden Middle School to offer this unique and collaborative learning opportunity and look forward to what the year has in store for all who are participating in this program – students and volunteers alike. But it’s just a start. Together, we encourage others in the life sciences industry, especially here in the Triangle, to join us in supporting STEM-focused initiatives and causes to expand opportunities for this critical educational discipline, lessen gaps in access, and help develop the next generation of STEM enthusiasts.