Since 2012, Abbott Laboratories has offered a high school internship program to students from diverse backgrounds, exposing them to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The program has since grown, offering opportunities to students at Abbott facilities across the United States.
Abbott’s internship program was created after it observed that students from underrepresented groups needed exposure to the STEM fields.
“Our program founder, Corlis Murray, wanted to help students understand that their world is bigger than what they have explored,” says Lynn Schroetter, manager, high school intern program.
“Facts supported our observations: U.S. Department of Commerce data show women are just a quarter of the STEM workforce and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be more than 1 million additional STEM jobs by 2026. Our own data found that students are more likely to stay in STEM if they work with mentors who look like them.”
Schroetter says Abbott is committed to “leveling the playing field” for those in underrepresented groups. The company provides these interns with professional polo shirts to wear to work and, if needed, helps them with transportation to and from its sites.
“Abbott has created a proven pipeline that leads from high school to STEM internships to STEM jobs,” Schroetter says.
“The high school internship program doesn’t ask students to pick up coffee or file paperwork. Students are paid and given real, quality STEM-related work. These are invaluable experiences for both life and a resume, and Abbott’s internship coordinators recognize that not all students can achieve them on their own. Our team goes above and beyond to help students succeed.”
Abbott’s objective for its high school STEM internship program is to offer meaningful, quality STEM experiences to students, no matter their backgrounds. Schroetter said the Abbott team saw the life-changing experiences the program provided as it grew and became successful.
“That inspired us to join the STEM education movement more broadly,” she explains.
“We decided to do that by using what we’ve learned to ask our corporate peers to create more opportunities for high school STEM internships outside of Abbott.”
The company partnered with STEMconnector, a professional services firm committed to increasing the number of STEM-ready workers globally, to create its “Shaping the Future of STEM” blueprint, which it released on Women’s Equality Day in August 2019. To raise awareness, Abbott took out full-page ads in newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, publishing an open letter from Murray about the need for more young people—particularly girls—in STEM.
“We decided to address the students who we don’t have the ability to hire,” Schroetter, says.
“We knew we couldn’t do it alone, so we decided to create the blueprint. The 30-page document is a scalable plan we are sharing with other companies to use to create their own high school STEM internship programs.”
Abbott sent copies of the blueprint to CEOs and human resources leaders at Fortune 500 companies, and several of the interns stood alongside top female Abbott scientists and engineers to ring the bell to start trading at the New York Stock Exchange. The company also launched a STEM education website at www.stem.abbott, where organizations can learn about the movement and request a copy of the blueprint.
“The success of our internship program and the blueprint’s release has exceeded our expectations,” Schroetter adds.
“We track internship program success based on metrics that include program growth, diversity of applicants, if interns remain in the STEM fields, and if high school interns continue into our college program and become full-time employees.”
Of the more than 130 students who have gone through Abbott’s high school STEM internship as of 2020, 97 percent of them go on to study STEM in college. In addition, Abbott has started hiring its first former interns as full-time engineers: Eight of the 11 are women.
The blueprint has been downloaded hundreds of times by Fortune 500 companies representing the finance, tech, manufacturing and healthcare sectors, along with universities, nonprofit groups, and government agencies.
“Since our launch,” Schroetter says, “we have hosted a live webinar to offer tips and advice to representatives from other companies interested in starting high school internships. In the weeks after our campaign, we heard from the U.S. State Department, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, NASA, the Society of Women Engineers, among others.”
The blueprint has received a good deal of coverage and attention from media outlets and on YouTube and social media. (Other YouTube videos by Abbott promoting engineering as a career include Being an Engineer Means Making People's Lives Better, The Artistry of Engineering, and STEM Superstars.)
“Our hope is to see our counterparts, with our guidance and advice if needed, start high school STEM internship programs, giving other students the chance to see what STEM can mean to their lives,” Schroetter adds.
Abbott Laboratories won the 2020 NACE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Excellence Award - Employer for its Shaping the Future of STEM program.