Column: 400 years of history as a platform for 21st century solutions

MIKE SPRINGER/Staff photo In this 2016 photo, Eddie Acosta uses a microscope to examine a tentacle during a "Squid 101" evening class for adults at Maritime Gloucester. 

Last week, two events reported in the Gloucester Daily Times provide further evidence that Gloucester’s reputation as an emerging center for marine science, research and education continues to grow. They are fresh evidence of an economic future shaped in part by a centuries-long history of maritime innovation, creative thinking and hard work updated to address 21st century issues.

A growing Gloucester life science, biotechnology and education community is collaborating as never before. It is expanding and creating new relationships locally and with prominent national and international marine research and educational institutions. “This is an incredibly important time for Gloucester’s marine research and education initiatives. It is exciting to consider the economic opportunities likely to emerge as research leads to discovery and development of new products and services in areas ranging from health care to sustainable fisheries and to climate resilience,” said Chris Bolzan, executive director of the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute.

Announcing plans for Maritime Gloucester’s new Maritime Science Center, Michael De Koster, executive director of Maritime Gloucester, noted that “we’re already capturing the next generation of scientists from the next generation of kids.” The Maritime Science Center is a significant step in the continuing evolution of Maritime Gloucester’s well-established STEM education programs with school systems.

Two days earlier, Gloucester voted for a “debt exclusion” to help fund a new elementary school. The school will be well equipped to support best practices in teaching subjects important to an evolving Gloucester economy.

Noteworthy is the partnership between Maritime Gloucester and the Gloucester School Department. Assistant Superintendent Gregg Bach in 2018 wrote that “Maritime Gloucester staff members fill essential roles as collaborators and coaches in lesson development, content knowledge and instructional practice.” Maritime Gloucester that year was presented the “Visionary Award” by the Gulf of Maine Council on The Marine Environment.

The new elementary school and Maritime Gloucester are integral elements within a growing array of businesses, institutions and organizations that are strengthening the local economy through science, research and education.

Other organizations, many partnering with Maritime Gloucester within a growing cluster designed to advance scientific research, discover and develop new products — and achieve educational excellence — include:

Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, pursuing leading-edge, genomics-based marine research with a growing number of national and international partners while also running the Gloucester Biotechnology Academy, which is in its fifth year of a lab certification training program, producing graduates in demand throughout the biotech industry.

Ocean Alliance, a leading international research and education organization focused on protecting whales and the ocean through research, scientific collaboration and education. Ocean Alliance is connected to the Gloucester community through joint education programing, its robotics club that promotes Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, and data sharing.

UMass Amherst Gloucester Marine Station, working with a range of partners to advance community resilience and sustainable fisheries and providing leadership along with the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce on blue economy initiatives in Massachusetts, New England and beyond.

Gloucester’s home-based, locally built schooners Ardelle, Adventure and Thomas E. Lannon that reflect the heart of the Gloucester fishing experience, and create a platform for connection to the ocean and marine education

New members of this growing economic sector include:

LifeMine Therapeutics, an ocean biotech company, and

Hefring Engineering, developer of autonomous undersea research vessels.

The impact of these relationships is increasingly evident. The Gloucester Biotechnology Academy has graduated 58 students with 88% employed as lab technicians or pursuing higher education in the sciences. Earlier this year, Governor Baker presented a $1 million grant to the Academy to double its capacity and add biomanufacturing to the standard curriculum.

Gloucester native Kyle Richard is one of its many success stories. Kyle, one of its first students, was motivated by what he heard about the Academy while working at Dunkin’ Donuts. After graduation in 2017, Kyle was hired by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Today, he is a research technician at the DFCI Core Facility.

At Maritime Gloucester, under the partnership with the School Department, nearly 700 third, fourth, and fifth grade students have participated each school year in the Ocean Explorers program. Additionally, they support thousands of youth visits each year through partnerships, field trips, camps and activities.

Drew Sweet started as an aquarium intern while in high school, progressed to supervisor of interns and then a teacher before earning a PhD. His Maritime Gloucester experience was “crucial” in his development as a scientist and educator.

Today, many of these companies, organizations and institutions have an eye on a future when new products, targeting quality of life issues, coupled with a solid and growing educational presence, may make Gloucester and the region a hub for bio-tech and life sciences manufacturing, as well as environmental and ocean stewardship and climate resiliency initiatives. It’s a story built around 21st century needs with a lineage that dates back nearly 400 years.

Carl Gustin is a Gloucester resident and retired executive who writes occasionally on local, regional and national issues.

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