Inspiring high school students to explore careers in the sciences

A new program in the San Francisco Unified School District aims to introduce high school students of color to the fields of health and life sciences.

Launched during the 2023–2024 school year with support from the Weinberg Foundation, Mission Bay Hub serves as a center of advanced research, innovation, and application for young people. The program — whose partners include the University of California, San Francisco; Kaiser Permanente; and the Golden State Warriors — provides opportunities for learning and mentorship while creating much-needed paths to college and careers in industries where communities of color are often underrepresented.

While people of color make up 65% of California’s population, Black and Latino individuals are only 6% and 7%, respectively, of employees in the biotech industry. Nationally, the percentage of young people who are not in school or working remains at 12% — and is even higher for Black (19%) and Latino (14%) youth.

“Mission Bay Hub is creating a bridge for young people by giving them a tangible opportunity during the school day that deepens their skills and provides research opportunities and mentorships in industries that ultimately lead to high-paying jobs,” said Sarah Manekin, who leads the Foundation’s grantmaking focused on education.

Giving students real-world experience and exposure to different careers

The program focuses on project-based learning across disciplines and includes hands-on research with science professionals. Students attend Mission Bay Hub daily for half-day sessions and receive high school credit, taking the remainder of their courses at their local high school. At the Hub, they specialize in areas including pediatrics, sports medicine, neuroscience, biomedical engineering, epidemiology, genetics, and food science.

Participating students generally come from schools unable to provide such experiences or resources like cutting-edge technology and internship programs, all of which help pave the way to careers and greater economic opportunity and mobility. One student, for example, was inspired to learn about nephrology after watching family members struggle with diabetes and dialysis. She now wants to pursue a career in the field, something she never would have considered without Mission Bay Hub. Hers is one of many such stories among her peers.

An innovative school model poised for expansion

Mission Bay Hub’s innovative structure prioritizes access for students, which is critical to its success. Many must care for siblings, work in the evening and on weekends, or are involved in extracurricular activities. Having opportunities during the school day allows them to participate while still attending to other responsibilities. In addition, the Hub intentionally offers classes required for graduation, including English and science, making it easier to fit into student schedules.

A principal whose high school participated in last year’s pilot program said she felt blessed for her students to have experiences they otherwise would not have had because of their school’s smaller size, which limits available resources. Of her three participants, one interned with the Golden State Warriors, one observed a surgery, and one worked with prosthetics. All now attend San Francisco State University, with two majoring in kinesiology and one in nursing. This year, seven students from the same school attend the Hub, joining peers from three other high schools.

In fall 2025, Mission Bay Hub will move to a new campus located closer to key program partners, increasing access to real-world labs, technology, and professionals in the health sciences — and engaging more than 1,000 students annually. Designed with young people’s input, the state-of-the-art facility will include a life sciences laboratory, a patient care simulation space, a maker’s area to support design and engineering practices, and flexible collaboration and project space aligned with industry standards.

“Mission Bay Hub is helping high schools to become intellectually rigorous and engaging places of learning,” said Manekin. “It is opening up true and meaningful opportunities for young people and meeting a real need for high-quality, hands-on experiential learning that sets them on pathways to interesting, high-wage jobs.”

Check out the live cam and time lapse of Mission Bay Hub’s new facility construction.

Erik Rice, director of Mission Bay Hub, with students on a visit to the University of California San Francisco’s neuroscience lab.

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