September 16, 2019  /   Philadelphia

Spark Therapeutics Sponsors STEM Career Exploration and Mentorship Program for Philadelphia Middle Schoolers

In support of the next generation of biotech innovators and leaders, local gene therapy company Spark Therapeutics’ sponsorship will support 10 Philadelphia seventh graders’ participation in Spark Program’s innovative Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) career exploration and self-discovery program.


September 16, 2019 – PHILADELPHIA – Spark Therapeutics, a fully integrated, commercial gene therapy company dedicated to challenging the inevitability of genetic disease, has provided a $20,000 corporate sponsorship to the Spark Program, Inc. Each year, the Spark Program engages 400 middle school students in Philadelphia in research-based programming designed to build critical skills and increase awareness of career possibilities. This sponsorship will give 10 students access to yearlong programming in STEM career exploration, skill-building, and one on one mentorship. Other than sharing a name and a commitment to science education, Spark Therapeutics and the Spark Program are not related.

“Spark Therapeutics’ sponsorship demonstrates our shared commitment to Philadelphia’s middle school students. Spark Therapeutics is enabling student access to professionals in STEM fields and helping them develop the skills to get there,” shared Deirdre Hake, Executive Director of the Spark Program.

Students enrolled in the Spark Program start their seventh-grade year participating in Spark Labs, or on-site workshops hosted by local companies and organizations. Students develop a broader understanding of the STEM industry and career opportunities by visiting different offices throughout the fall semester. Employee volunteers from the host company guide students through structured, group activities that build skills and help students understand how their interests, abilities and skills relate to workplaces and professions. After this exploration phase of the Spark Program, students are paired with a mentor based on the interests of the student. During the spring semester, students visit their mentor’s workplace after school once a week for 13 weeks. The mentors guide structured, two-hour sessions filled with social-emotional learning activities with the end-goal of creating a Career Interest Project.

This one-to-one mentoring experience creates an opportunity for students to spend quality time with a caring adult while participating in hands-on learning activities. Last year, Isaiah, then a seventh grader at Boys’ Latin Charter School, explored his interest in pursuing an engineering career. With his mentor, he researched different hands-on engineering projects that showcase the fundamentals of engineering. Combining Isaiah’s interest in rollercoasters and his mentor’s expertise in model and woodshop design, they found a motor-driven marble roller coaster model and decided to create a wooden conveyer-belt version. This project created important engineering lessons in friction and motion.

“These workplace-based activities immerse students in a tangible glimpse of what’s possible. Students experience the value of planning, implementation and problem solving with the creation of a project while building individual skills and community connections. For 15 years, we’ve seen the Spark Program put middle school students on a trajectory of success. At a time when student engagement typically declines, 74% of Spark students improved in critical competencies for successful classroom engagement” explained Hake.

“The Spark Program mirrors our dedication to exploration in STEM,” said Monique da Silva, Head of Corporate Communications at Spark Therapeutics. “Together, we can create the path to bright futures in STEM careers for young Philadelphians and help ensure that the future workforce of this city has the skills and hands-on experience to be part of the exciting, growing career opportunities in biotechnology.”


In 2019-20, the Spark Program will partner with six schools in North and West Philadelphia to engage 400 students, its largest cohort of youth ever, and partner with more than 350 mentors from 20+ companies.


About the Spark Program, Inc.

The Spark Program is a Career Exploration and Self-Discovery Program that gives middle school students opportunities to understand, experience and pursue what’s possible for their future.  The Spark Program s leading The Possibility Movement by bringing together diverse communities of families, schools and companies who care, share, teach and inspire. Spark Lab, Spark Mentorship and Spark High School Pathways use workplace experiences, mentoring and guided support to help students in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia explore careers, build skills and find the right path to a successful future. Learn more at


About Spark Therapeutics

At Spark Therapeutics, a fully integrated, commercial company committed to discovering, developing and delivering gene therapies, we challenge the inevitability of genetic diseases, including blindness, hemophilia, lysosomal storage disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. We have successfully applied our technology in the first gene therapy approved in both the U.S. and EU for a genetic disease, and currently have four programs in clinical trials, including product candidates that have shown promising early results in patients with hemophilia. At Spark, we see the path to a world where no life is limited by genetic disease. For more information, visit, and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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