Ride the 'Big Waive'

Biotechnology industry leaders and developers have cited interest in having GMGI open an academy learning lab to offer its innovative certificate program in Boston.

My father died quite suddenly on a late afternoon of Christmas week in what seems, and doesn’t seem, like a long time ago.

As a commuter student, I was halfway through my sophomore year at a very expensive Boston College. My stay-at-home mom was left with five mouths to feed. The part-time janitorial job I picked up at The Boston Globe helped pay some bills, but not BC’s.

Soon after, my mom became quite ill. To say there were distractions at home, both financial and otherwise, is to minimize my situation.

If not for generous grants from the Commonwealth, matching federal financial aid, along with scholarships from The Heights, I might still be unhappily mopping floors.

Social Security survivor benefits later helped pay for grad school.

With a solid education and inspired by the words of President John F. Kennedy, I began a vocation committed to public service. Starting with the US National Park Service, I went on to work for the state’s environmental affairs office and concluded my career at a non-profit.

The generous investments in my education paid off.

Today, I am a firm believer in public and private financial support for our kids’ educational future.

Education can mean many things to many people. For some, as with me, it meant college. For others, it can mean vocational school training. and still for others, it can mean a post-high school certificate program in a technical field.

A great example of the latter is here in Gloucester at the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute — GMGI.

What is GMGI? I had seen its relatively new clean building surrounded by boats down at the Inner Harbor yet was unsure as to what really went on there, and why. Then my wife, Fara Courtney, was appointed to GMGI’ s financial advisory committee, and I began to learn.

GMGI is committed to “addressing challenges facing our oceans, human health and environment through innovative scientific research and education,” its web site states. What’s not to like about this mission, especially with the stresses we see on all three of these areas right now.

GMGI is also bringing “world-class science” and a “transformative workforce” to our waterfront. It believes this can result in a revitalized regional economy. Right now, our economy can use all the help it can get.

So, is GMGI just a place for scientists to do research?

Not really. Associated with GMGI is its educational Gloucester Biotechnology Academy that helps it pursue its mission.

And what is biotechnology?

My cursory research showed that biotechnology involves using the genetic fingerprints of species such as sea urchins and cod to find innovative solutions to high impact human problems. As a result, biotech can produce useful stuff like new pharmaceuticals. Sounds good to me, especially at this time of COVID-19.

At Gloucester Biotechnology Academy, students spend seven months mastering the cutting-edge technical skills, and instrumentation and quality control measures necessary to work as full-time, entry-level lab technicians. After class and lab, they go on a 3-month paid internship.

As an academy fueled by world-class scientific minds, students are mentored by exceptional, caring instructors, and get to work with industry leaders. In addition to the technical stuff, they learn critical thinking and communication skills, teamwork, and time management.

I have listened to inspiring graduates talk about how their future has changed for the good because of their training and post-graduate placement at some of Boston, Cambridge, and the North Shores’ most prestigious biotech labs.

These impressive and hardworking young people are not only charting a new course for how we use the waterfront but are charting their own new courses for how they live their lives and conduct their careers.

Most recently, more than three-quarters of students enrolled graduated, with 90% having begun work in the biotechnology industry. Some were even so inspired that they enrolled in college to further their scientific studies.

Annual starting salaries for graduates have been in the mid-$50,000s. That’s impressive.

Even better news is that this year, Cape Ann high school graduates who show a strong and sincere commitment to GMGI’s mission, program and work can now participate in the so-called “big waive” by joining the academy’s Class of 2023 — tuition free!

Tuition waiver will be a big help for kids who might otherwise never enroll or graduate.

I can attest to the fact that eliminating financial barriers and the distraction of a full- or part-time job while trying to go to school will provide students with the opportunity to concentrate on their field of study. It made all the difference in my life, and I know it will in theirs.

Although GMGI stands for the Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute, for many it will also stand for the Generous Marine Genomics Institute.

Slots are open for classes starting now in August, and later in November. Spread the word.

Jack Clarke is a frequent contributor to the Gloucester Daily Times.

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