Illinois Science and Technology Coalition

Photo credit: Illinois Science and Technology Coalition

In considering future needs in global health, how can we ensure that we better cultivate the next generation of innovators in healthcare and critical thinkers in Illinois and around the world? The Illinois Science and Technology Institute is a STEM-focused non-profit that provides programs and partnerships that connect companies with classrooms.

Through our STEM Challenge program, we help give high students a peek inside what it means to solve problems in the real world – particularly within areas such as health, which will demand their talents in the not too distant future. Now in our fourth year, we have witnessed great curiosity and innovation from high school students and educators alike in tackling some pressing healthcare challenges — from medication adherence, to community health literacy, to better methods of drug delivery. 

Over the course of a semester, students interact directly with healthcare professionals from companies such as Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Baxter International Inc., Horizon Pharma, and AbbVie, who serve as project mentors. Working with these mentors to address industry issues brings the classroom to life and allows students to get firsthand experience into the range of careers in the dynamic healthcare industry.

For example, working with us for the first time this year, Horizon Pharma has challenged students at Highland Park High School to consider innovative methods of delivering "orphan" drugs, particularly looking at the needs of young people, just like them.

Students have also paired up with mentors from Takeda Pharmaceuticals to look at medication adherence in the therapeutic areas of diabetes and depression and with the AbbVie Foundation to address the needs of patients with cancer, especially in low-income communities. Baxter International Inc. is working with students at three schools in Chicago -- Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, and Muchin College Prep -- to recommend home healthcare design innovations to improve usability, accessibility, and patient outcomes.

Over the next several months, students will be working to develop their ideas into innovative solutions. The process will culminate with a student showcase in April at which they will have the opportunity to present their work and receive valuable feedback. Through the STEM Challenge, students will not only be learning important STEM concepts, they will learn to collaborate with their mentors, work in a team with their peers, and learn the importance of clear and frequent communication, in order to come with up with real solutions for diseases affecting patients around the world.

Since 2012, partnerships such as these have impacted more than 2,000 students across 35 high schools in the state, inspiring many of them to pursue science, technology, and engineering as a field of further study. 

We're excited to see the support of our corporate partners, such as Horizon Pharma and AbbVie, toward the Global Health Symposium as well as the upcoming Chicago Forum on Global Cities. We can't wait to see how they inspire the healthcare innovators of tomorrow and leave a lasting positive impact on our world.

Join the Science and Technology Coalition at this year's Global Health Symposium on March 10, register today.