June 26, 2023
There is a need in Northern Virginia for more professionals entering the Life Sciences field. One major barrier to fulfilling this need is the limited workplace experience for graduate students preparing to enter the Life Sciences field. Another challenge contributing to this lack of Life Science professionals is the availability of trained instructors who are familiar with advanced life science concepts and techniques who have mastered college-level life-sciences material that is specially formatted for students in secondary school. The Future Kings have developed an innovative approach that is designed to help solve these challenges. The innovation combines college-level course material specially designed for secondary students with an internship for the graduate students that includes both teaching adolescents and working in a professional lab.

Future Kings is a Northern Virginia-based nonprofit that focuses on a yearlong after-school STEM program for Northern Virginia students in need, many of whom are from Black and Latino families. In early 2023, they were awarded a grant of $30,000 through the Community Foundation’s Innovation Fund that will go towards creating an “innovation pipeline,” simultaneously serving multiple generations by having graduate students earn real world experience by teaching Future Kings’ core constituents of Prince William County 6th-12th graders. The grant will support one cohort, which consists of 1 grad student and 15 high schoolers. The primary field of instruction will be microbiology.

“We’re testing a twofold theory of change,” said Dr. Arik King, Executive Director of Future Kings. “First, the graduate students will be far more successful in obtaining jobs in the biomedical and life sciences fields with this hands-on work. Second, the program will grow a far more robust pipeline of middle and high schoolers who enter post-high school life sciences careers.”

Future Kings’ leadership considers the organization to be more of a workforce development program, focusing not just on hard sciences and skills, but also on soft skills like creativity, collaboration, and adapting to the modern workplace. However, the crown jewel of the program is their “Applied Learning” program. As Jesse Citizen told the Community Foundation, “We started introducing our students to Applied Learning programs a couple of years ago as a way of demonstrating to participants how their classroom knowledge is used in the real world.” Dr. King added, “Focusing on recruiting graduate students as the core constituency for our life sciences instructor pool provides significant benefits to the grad school STEM instructors, to our program participants, and to the local life sciences business community. We are extremely grateful to the support that the Community Foundation has given us so that we might launch this initiative.”

With this kind of forward thinking, Future Kings is well set up for future success. Sari Raskin, Vice President of Grants and Community Leadership, said “We're excited to support this innovative program at Future Kings that will build a mentorship program between school aged kids and biomedical sciences grad students. This funding will seed innovation across different generations, and advance equity for students in need, aligning with the Community Foundation's new mission statement.” You can learn more about them by visiting their website, or by watching this video from WUSA9.

Support the innovation fund here.