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Member Spotlight: Amgen Foundation

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Amgen Foundation's Vice President, Scott Heimlich, discussed with SCG Amgen's giving.


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Tell us about Amgen’s CSR/philanthropy goals:

Inspire. Prepare. Engage. These three words are top of mind for those of us at the Amgen Foundation, the primary philanthropic vehicle for the global biotech company Amgen.  

As a company and industry that relies on a scientific workforce―and that exists in a world with varying levels of scientific literacy―the Amgen Foundation is focused on inspiring, preparing and engaging young people through authentic science experiences, particularly in biology and other life science fields. Our initiatives are to be found both within our communities, such as our headquarters here in southern California, as well as globally, especially given our focus on underserved populations with limited access to engaging science education experiences.


What programs are exciting for you right now?

I’d spotlight our new LabXchange initiative with Harvard University, which we announced just a few months ago through a $6.5 million, four-year grant. Currently set to launch in 2019, this new and free online science education platform is poised to allow millions of students, regardless of economic or geographic limitations, to virtually work as a scientist through lab simulations, gamification, and other collaborative tools. Authentically engaging learners in the process of experimental design is one example of our approach to not only inspire young people to consider a science career, but to ensure they are prepared to be successful when they do so. Check it out at



Also, the expansion of the Amgen Scholars program. Amgen Scholars is a hands-on research program that allows undergraduates to spend a summer at one of many of the world’s premier research institutions. The new four-year, $21 million commitment brings the program to a total of 24 elite institutions across the U.S., Europe, Asia and, for the first time, Australia and Canada. Learn more here.


2018 Amgen Scholars Infographic


What is your favorite success story?

In my thirteen years at the Amgen Foundation, we’ve significantly scaled our high school biotech lab program (called the Amgen Biotech Experience) from a few thousand students reached annually to currently nearly 90,000 students reached annually, with a significant percentage of those students here in schools in southern California. What is at the heart of this expansion? People. 

A high school biology teacher who, after a summer internship in 1989 at Amgen didn’t stop at how great the experience was for him, but instead asked how he could bring what he learned during the internship―specifically biotech as it applied to developing medicines―to his biology class down the road. An Amgen staff member and a scientist (and later many more scientists) who worked with this teacher to develop a curriculum for high school classrooms. A college instructor (and fantastic educator) who strengthened the labs and trained hundreds of teachers in how to run them with students. Dozens more who have dedicated sweat and tears to continuously improving the lab experience, as well as training and supporting program leaders and teachers. And an Amgen Foundation Board of Directors―with a deep commitment to making a difference in their communities―that continues to strive to ensure every student has a chance to do real science, as well as understand the connection between the labs they are doing and the development of medicines to fight serious illness.

Learn more at


How has the SCG community helped you advance your work?

Every profession needs a way for professionals to learn from their peers, collaborate with others and grow stronger. In the grantmaking community I’d say it’s even more important. The philanthropic community can indeed move more quickly than government when needed, can set the agenda and prioritize areas of need that may be neglected, can take risks in calculated ways and can convene stakeholders across sectors to mobilize forces in unique ways.

But too often we don’t learn from each other, from past mistakes and from investments of time and resources that didn't go as planned. SCG provides many forums, from the Senior Peer-to-Peer Network which I participated in, to the Annual Conference and other funding networks, all of which play a role in strengthening our network, our ability to do what we do, and our institutional and collective impact.  We look forward to continuing our engagement and support of SCG to best meet our goals and those of the southern California region.


What is something your organization or you personally learned during your time in this role that you think others might find helpful?

The power of creating and nurturing a learning community among program leaders. When I designed―along with my colleagues―the Amgen Scholars Program twelve years ago, I wanted to put in place a system that would allow for continuous data-driven improvement across the network.  At the time, we brought on board ten premier U.S. research institutions to open their doors and support summer research experiences for undergraduates. 

Importantly, in addition to the institutions who host the program I also brought on board a program office and an evaluator. While both entities add real value, I’m going to focus on the role of the evaluator. When you have multiple entities leading a similar program across multiple locations, you have a real opportunity for learning if you design the evaluation in such a way that every participant is completing the same assessment regardless of where they participate in the program. This allows for comparative performance.

Thus, instead of a grantee coming back on a progress report to indicate how well they did on a given measure, at program leadership meetings we’ve been able to look across the grantees running this initiative and call out strong performance by a grantee on a select measure. Note that we―and the grantee―are also able to take note of weak performance on a given measure, but don’t call this out in meetings in a way that identifies the grantee.

This has led to the identification not just of strong practice, but also a data-driven discussion into understanding why that grantee scored so highly on that measure (usually there was a good reason).  This leadership forum―showing the importance of data to the funder and all parties, as well as calling out strong practice―has led to replication in certain instances of that practice at other grantees. This has increased the overall impact of the program. Learn more about this initiative at, and check out our MIT-published book on Amgen Scholars: Best Practices in Summer Undergraduate Research Programs.


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