Gloucester Biotechnology Academy Class of 2022 student speaker Colby Delano of Ipswich said he felt stuck before applying to the academy’s Biotechnology Certificate Program.
Science had interested him, but he did not get to explore that passion in high school. His community college courses didn’t interest him.
He knew about the academy through a friend, a former academy graduate, so he applied.
“I bet everything I had on this program, to be honest,” Delano said during a graduation ceremony Thursday night in Cape Ann Museum’s auditorium.
Delano was among 15 graduates of the academy, part of the nonprofit Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute (GMGI), at the Blackburn Center.
However, when he applied, the program waitlisted him. Through three stressful interviews, he said what stuck with him was being told they weren’t sure he would have the drive to complete the program.
“I had to prove them wrong, but I also had to prove to myself that I could,” said Delano, who said he was grateful to be part of a community that is changing the industry, proving that one does not need a bachelor’s degree to go into life sciences.
Over 10 months, the 15 young women and men from Gloucester and surrounding communities had seven months of hands-on-training, and about 1,000 hours of lab work learning to become entry-level biotech lab technicians. They also finished three-month internships at some top biotech and life sciences firms and organizations, from Synlogic, NOAA Fisheries, LifeMine, to Tenza and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, to name a few.
The Biotechnology Academy was founded six years ago as part of GMGI’s vision to address critical challenges facing the oceans, human health, and the environment through research and education.
This was the sixth class to graduate, and the academy plans to increase the class number to 40 in the coming year with spaces still available (You can learn more at https://gmgi.org/education/biotechnology-certificate-program/).
John Doyle, the education director, said one thread has united all the classes, and that is courage.
“Imagine for a moment walking away from the familiar, the comfortable in your life,” Doyle said, “and deciding to engage in training for an incredible technical and intensive discipline, at the end of which you would be thrust into one of the most innovative and competitive markets for that particular discipline in the entire world. That is what these 15 individuals accomplished over the past 10 months.”
“They worked so hard to get here,” said Lead Teacher Steve Anderson. “The early days of ‘I can’t do math’ are behind you,’ he said to laughs.
Anderson said the class was the first to use the academy’s new bio-manufacturing lab made possible by a state workforce grant of almost $1 million. The class’s work helping to get the bugs out of the new equipment will make a difference to the bio-manufacturing curriculum for future classes. He also praised their work in internships.
“Whether helping to develop a wrap for fruits and vegetables made of silk, or coming up with drugs against cancer, things that this class has already done in their internships may someday be the foundations of discoveries that change the world,” Anderson said. “And they are going to do it the Gloucester way.”
Holly Randazza, a Gloucester native who now lives in Tyngsborough, was named the Zhu Millman Scholar, an award named for academy supporters and biotech professionals Chi-Chi Zhu and Robert Millman.
Randazza said before starting at the academy, she had different employers, but felt something was missing and wasn’t happy at work. She knew of the academy through friends she had seen excel. But she had to overcome her doubts. She was a bit older than most in the program and it had been a while since she’d been in school.
“I stand before you in the employ of Walden Biosciences,” she said to applause about her new job with the Cambridge biotechnology firm.
In a surprise, Doyle announced the new Joseph J. Rosa GMGI Award, to be given annually to the person who best exemplifies dedication to the mission of GMGI and the academy. Rosa, of Gloucester, an accomplished scientist, was one of the original scientists hired at Biogen, Doyle said.
Doyle said Rosa and he helped develop the academy’s curriculum in a lab at Endicott College and Rosa has volunteered as an instructor since the academy opened in 2016.
“Joe, there has been no one more influential at the academy since its inception than you,” Doyle said. “You have had a profound effect on both our students and educators alike.”
“This is such a valuable asset that Gloucester now has,” Rosa said in accepting the award. “We should all be extremely proud. We not only have a way of satisfying an unmet need. I mean, this doesn’t go on, this kind of school does not go on anywhere else as far as I’m aware, and the success of the students in getting jobs almost immediately, that doesn’t happen anywhere.”
Commencement speaker Kenn Turner, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in Waltham, celebrated the graduates for their transition into a career in the life sciences.
“You guys have demonstrated exactly what I think is magical about GMGI and a program like this, which is we can take young people and put them in a completely different trajectory and that’s the beauty of this program,” Turner said.