Inaugural BARDA STEM Innovator Experience Held for High School Youth at Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus

November 29, 2023 by Julia DeAngelo, MPH

We believe great ideas can come from anywhere and there is no right or wrong path to be an innovator. – Shamia Holloway, Public Affairs Liaison, Children’s National Hospital/JLABS @ Washington, DC

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) collaborated with Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS @ Washington, DC and the BLUE KNIGHT™ initiative to host the inaugural BARDA STEM Innovator Experience at the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus on November 1. More than 50 high-school students from Calvin Coolidge Senior High School and DC International School, a DC public school and public charter school, explored the state-of-the-art innovation campus, located on the historic grounds of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center that opened in 2021.

The event opened with welcome remarks from Rachel Rath, Director of the BARDA Alliance for Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS , and Ashim Subedee, Director of the BARDA DRIVe Catalyst Office. Students then broke into small groups to experience showcases from the next generation of entrepreneurs tackling some of the world’s most pressing healthcare challenges. The participating JLABS @ Washington, DC resident companies included Acclinate, Astek Diagnostics, Congruence Medical Solutions, Neuroene Therapeutics, and Polaris Genomics. Many of the company CEOs were women and people of color, highlighting the dedication to supporting diverse innovators.

The photo below shows Congruence Medical Solutions presenting how their technology addresses unmet, emerging needs and hard-to-solve problems in injectable devices for applications involving small-volume doses of a drug.

And this photo shows students touring the state-of-the-art JLABS @ Washington, DC site that includes 32,000 square feet of modular lab units, office space, shared core laboratory equipment and business facilities.

The event concluded with a panel discussion on cracking the code to life science innovation internships. The panel was co-moderated by Ashim Subedee and Rachel Rath and speakers included: Michael Nestor, National Academy of Sciences; Isabella Wu, ORISE fellow; and Kayla Zamanian, BLUE KNIGHT™ Intern. Panelists shared their experiences on pursuing higher education, internships, job opportunities and offered the following tips:

  • Look into interdisciplinary science fields; science is broader than math and physics.
  • It is never too early to research state and federal scholarships if you are considering higher education.
  • Apply to schools that are a strong match for you as opposed to focusing on just reach schools.
  • Consider the value of degree programs and think critically about skills that can be gained through work experience.
  • Practice interview skills and share what you are passionate about.
  • Find a job to work part-time, even if it’s in a different department, that may increase your awareness of opportunities and improve translatable skills.
  • Federal agencies have internship programs and the best way to find an internship is to talk to people. For example, consider internships with the Smithsonian Institution, National Science Foundation (NSF), and National Security Agency (NSA).
  • Use LinkedIn to find people in your area who are in different fields and connect with them.

In the photo below you see Kayla Zamanian, BLUE KNIGHT™ Intern, sharing the importance of building relationships and volunteering during the panel discussion.

I am thankful that our scholars were able to visit JLABS as a part of the BARDA STEM Innovator Experience. Students were immediately welcomed into a physical space that cultivated their curiosity and sparked discussion. Hearing the stories of the innovators’ unique journeys, successes, and challenges faced, prompted students to think about what’s possible in biomedical research. -Masaley Kargbo, Academy of Health Science Director, Calvin Coolidge Senior High School

The BARDA STEM Innovator Experience was part of BARDA’s new SPRINT (Science, Preparedness and Response, Innovations, and New Technologies) Program, that seeks to inspire next-generation scientists by partnering directly with socio-economically diverse schools in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area to highlight scientific topics BARDA encounters, encourage students to consider public service, and generate excitement about BARDA’s work in the biomedical and health security fields.

To learn more, contact Shamia Holloway (Public Affairs Liaison, Children’s National Hospital/JLABS @ Washington, DC) at

About the author

Julia DeAngelo, MPH

Program Manager for School Strategies within the Child Health Advocacy Institute at Children's National Hospital