Project Onramp Philadelphia Launches

Life Science Cares Philadelphia launched Project Onramp Philadelphia, a program aimed at connecting economically disadvantaged college students with paid summer internships at life science companies based in the area.

Project Onramp was first launched in Boston two years ago to great success and Life Sciences Care Philadelphia hopes to replicate that success in the city of Brotherly Love, which has a poverty rate of 23.3%. Pete Wolf, Executive Director of Life Science Cares Philadelphia said internship opportunities can provide pathways to full-time jobs that provide higher-than-average starting salaries and benefits. He noted there are widening disparities among students based on race, gender, and the education level of parents between those who find unpaid internships versus those that are paid. 

Wolf said it’s a logical move to create a pathway that unites these student populations and the life sciences industry. This year, the plan is to provide internship opportunities to 25 to 30 students in Philadelphia’s booming life sciences industry ecosystem. Internships will be offered to STEM and business-focused disciplines. Students who participate in Project Onramp range in educational experience from rising sophomores to graduating seniors.

“We saw how well it worked over the past two years in Boston and wanted to replicate that here,” Wolf said. “As the biotech industry in Greater Philadelphia continues to boom, Project Onramp will break down barriers that have historically excluded many deserving students while building a more diverse pipeline of talent in our community. This will make it easier for companies to find these students and for the students to find these companies.”

Not only are students who have gone through Project Onramp in Boston landing jobs through their internship opportunities, Wolf said many of the students who have participated, are re-enrolling in order to gain additional experience with different companies.

Life Sciences Cares Philadelphia (LSC Philadelphia), which is an offshoot of the original Life Sciences Cares program in Boston, launched in December 2019 to take on poverty in the city. The organization works with the life sciences industry to provide volunteer opportunities for employees that impact the economically disadvantaged people in the city.

Through Project Onramp, Wolf said he hopes the internship program will break down barriers that have historically excluded many deserving students while building a more diverse pipeline of talent in our community.

To reach college students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, LSC Philadelphia partnered with Philadelphia Futures, an organization that provides guidance, outreach, and more to first-generation low-income college students. Kelsie LeVan, Director of Career Initiatives at Philadelphia Futures, pointed to the significance of a paid internship, which she said is critical to the future success of students.

More than one-fourth of first-generation college students have never held any kind of internship at all and LeVan noted that students of color are more likely to hold unpaid internships than their white peers. That’s one reason that Project Onramp was so appealing to Philadelphia Futures.

“At LSC Philadelphia, there’s a belief in connecting these students to a meaningful paid opportunity and that’s a nice alignment for us,” LeVan said.

The internships provided through Project Onramp are not limited to those STEM-related roles that first come to mind. Wolf and LeVan said there will be opportunities in various areas of a business, including human resources, finance, marketing, and administrative roles.

Philadelphia Futures will provide the students with one-on-one support as they participate in what could be a life-changing summer, Wolf said.

Unlike traditional internships, the first year of internships offered through Project Onramp Philadelphia will be virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Wolf said LSC Philadelphia is currently in talks with companies that will offer internships to finalize the job descriptions for those roles. Wolf said he hopes to begin to place some students in the internships over the next few weeks and have all of them in place by May.

“This is a great opportunity to introduce students to the life sciences industry, which right now has tremendous growth opportunities,” he said. “We (LSC Philadelphia) want to be part of that growth story in Philadelphia. “We’re excited to replicate what’s been done in Boston and want to continue that success in Philadelphia.”