OpenDoors introduces underrepresented students to the life sciences

OpenDoors is a unique internship program designed to introduce high school students from underrepresented populations to the potential careers available in the life sciences industry.

Posted Updated
David Arkin
This article was written for our sponsor, NCBiotech

The moment Cary High School student Jessica Paredes learned about a unique internship program that was created to help students like her gain experience in the life sciences industry, she jumped at the opportunity.

The program is called OpenDoors. Its mission is to help current and future generations of underrepresented students from the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities gain access to internship programs in the Triangle’s life sciences industry. It is being spearheaded by Anil Goyal, CEO of IMMvention Therapeutics and Joe Ruiz, president of Enzerna Biosciences.

A unique opportunity

Paredes, who is the captain of her debate team, the Red Cross Club, and a member of the National Honors Society, said she heard Ruiz talk about the internship program in her AP biology class last school year and knew she needed to act.

"When he explained that he wanted to open doors for not just high school students but the minority community, I saw it as a great opportunity to dive into something where I could show my representation for my community in the biotech industry," she explained.

Paredes, who is Hispanic, said she was surprised to discover that there were opportunities in the life sciences that aren’t lab focused.

Clearly a driven student, Paredes saw herself on a trajectory toward business, and the business field that caught her eye? Real estate.

"My main passion is real estate and that was my initial path," she explained. "I didn’t realize there was a place for real estate in the biotech industry, but my co-workers helped me understand I could do something in real estate or clinical trials management."

Those conversations throughout her internship helped Paredes better understand the incredibly vast diversity of careers under the life sciences umbrella. From understanding the logistical needs for certain labs to facilities management, Paredes learned that a career in life sciences doesn’t just mean having to be in a lab all day.

And that’s exactly why Ruiz, who leads two gene therapy companies, helped create OpenDoor.

A Mexican-American, Ruiz said he has always had a passion for encouraging diversity in life sciences.

"We started OpenDoors to specifically reach out to area high schoolers that have prominent populations of first generation students who never have been to college or are from underrepresented groups," he explained.

A variety of companies participated in the program last summer, including Enzerna, Epigenos Biosciences, IMMvention, and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Their first program was held during summer 2022 and they had nine students that worked in eight different life sciences companies. "The majority were people from groups that normally are not represented in sciences," Ruiz said.

What it’s like for the students

The students take part in a six-week internship. When many of them start, they know very little about the life sciences. But they quickly become knowledgeable about the industry and more confident.

The program provides students with exposure to the field and helps open their eyes to an area they may not have considered previously. For the most part, students who participated in the summer internship program took part in business development or marketing roles.

Paredes was placed with North Carolina Biotechnology, worked Monday to Thursday and participated in a variety of meetings, collaborated with different teams, and attended events outside of the office.

She said the biggest takeaway was the networking the internship provided.

"The internship really helped expand my network," she said. "I got the chance to attend an event for a big investor and I got to meet CEOs and people at [University of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill who were completing Ph.D. work. Getting to meet those people was really exciting and a good opportunity."

Getting students signed up

Ruiz is utilizing many methods to recruit students to OpenDoors, including lectures at local high schools, career fairs, and using social media to spread the word.

All of that seems to be working. He said they already have 23 applicants for next summer.

One of the reasons they are likely experiencing success with attracting students is the simplicity of the application process. Students are asked to complete a Google sheet with just one sentence of information: why they’re interested in life sciences. There are no grade point averages required.

Paredes described the process as "pretty simple."

The internships are paid by the businesses taking part in the program. You can learn more about the OpenDoors Group and how to apply for an internship by following them on LinkedIn or by contacting Joe Ruiz at
This article was written for our sponsor, NCBiotech