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The Biogen Foundation

The Biogen STAR Initiative in Cambridge and Somerville


The Biogen Foundation


The Biogen STAR Initiative in Cambridge and Somerville


How can a foundation catalyze the growth of STEM ecosystems across local school districts?



The Biogen Foundation partnered with Root Cause to design and implement a new, multi-year philanthropic initiative. The STAR Initiative is a coordinated funding strategy designed to help catalyze the development of a local STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) ecosystem across Cambridge and Somerville public schools.  STAR (which stands for Science, Teacher support, Access and Readiness) is intended to strengthen and support the educational landscapes in these cities by helping increase access to STEM resources and opportunities for students most underrepresented in STEM college or career pathways.


Root Cause conducted research to inform the design of the STAR Initiative model, which consists of a group of selected nonprofit grantees that will strengthen their alignment and coordination with each other and with Cambridge and Somerville school districts to expand and deepen STEM learning opportunities for students in grades 6-12.  Selected nonprofits will target traditionally underserved students to engage and develop their interest in the STEM fields, gain necessary STEM exposure and enrichment opportunities, and transition to post-secondary STEM education in pursuit of STEM careers. Our team, led by Sonja Okun, supported the Biogen Foundation leadership in honing their strategy to invest $10 million into a coordinated network of grantees over four years.

To date, Root Cause has worked with Biogen Foundation to develop a theory of change for the initiative, design the model, develop a Request for Proposals for nonprofits to apply for funding to be part of the STAR initiative, and screen and select grantees. Root Cause is currently coordinating the STAR Initiative, which consists of developing aligned objectives and outcomes, helping to strengthen relationships and coordination amongst STAR grantees and other stakeholders in Cambridge and Somerville, facilitating collaboration to share learnings, data, and challenges, and creating performance measurement metrics.

"Inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers is a critical endeavor for our industry and for society as a whole. We're pleased to demonstrate Biogen's commitment to education in our community through this important Biogen Foundation initiative," says Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO.
"With this grant, the Biogen Foundation is not just providing our students with engaging STEM learning opportunities today, but exposing them to future pathways into the workforce," says Emily McCann, CEO of Citizen Schools.
“When we saw … and heard that Biogen was making such a deep investment in such an important area, we were thrilled that Somerville and Cambridge would both benefit. This really is going to help us prepare our students for a future, that we don’t even know what looks like, but we do know that STEM is going to be at the center of it,” says Mary Skipper, Superintendent of Somerville Public Schools.
“It takes bold and visionary and big financial investments to really move the needle. And I think 25 years from now, Cambridge and Somerville will look back on this as a pivotal change in the equity and the accessibility of this career path for students, and it’ll be as a result of the STAR Initiative,” says Ben Clark, Executive Director of Enroot.

Goals & Results

The Biogen Foundation, with the help of Root Cause, officially announced new funding for this initiative in January of 2018. Root Cause guided the Biogen Foundation in the network selection criteria and process that resulted in the selection of six nonprofits that will share a four-year, $10 million investment to drive the development of a local STEM ecosystem across Cambridge and Somerville. The nonprofits include:

For the first year of the initiative, Root Cause has worked with multiple stakeholders (such as Biogen Foundation leadership, STAR grantees, Cambridge and Somerville school district representatives, and district Superintendents) to facilitate and develop new and consistent ways to connect STAR grantees and district stakeholders. Root Cause has helped members of the STAR network to collaborate and design processes and systems for building strong, trusting relationships that maximize effective collaboration and coordination.  Root Cause also worked with partners to identify common goals and outcomes for a coordinated effort to build STEM education ecosystems that effectively serve all students.  

Root Cause’s current priorities for the network include developing tools to share organizational and program data among the grantees, ensuring the grantees’ work aligns with school districts’ strategic priorities, establishing more opportunities for grantee communication, and developing a plan to engage students as active stakeholders in the STAR initiative.



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About the Partner

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The Biogen Foundation

The Biogen Foundation, one of the oldest biotechnology companies, founded in 1978, specializes in complex neurological and neurodegenerative conditions. The Biogen Foundation contributes to its focus communities through three primary vehicles: The Biogen Foundation; Community Labs in the company’s host cities of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Durham, North Carolina; and an employee volunteer program which engages thousands of employees annually in community service and mentorship.

The Biogen Foundation supports access to science education and to essential human services for children and their families in the communities in which The Biogen Foundation facilities are located. The Foundation is committed to sparking a passion for science and discovery, supporting effective science education initiatives, and strengthening efforts to make science education and science careers accessible to diverse populations.

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