By Megan Schulz, Director of Communications and Events, MassBioEd

20 years ago, MassBioEd was founded to focus on high quality science education programming as a critical step to building a talented workforce in Massachusetts. It is well known that teachers who can lead inquiry-based learning activities—or inspire even just one student through their own enthusiasm for science—are the industry’s greatest resources. If you ask anyone who inspired them to pursue their career in the life sciences, many will answer “my teacher.” A focus on teacher training quickly became a major component MassBioEd’s educational programs.

Confident, technically skilled teachers embrace new technologies, inspire student curiosity, and ignite student interest. Through our training of life sciences teachers and support for schools, MassBioEd helps teachers immerse students in authentic laboratory experiences in the classroom and integrate biotechnology curricula into their school programs.

Equally important to laying the foundation for the workforce of tomorrow is that students understand the full array of career opportunities in the industry and can see themselves in those roles. MassBioEd taps into the community of life sciences professionals to channel efforts to build a diverse STEM pipeline. Volunteers help to build a critical bridge between classroom and careers by sharing with students their experiences in and enthusiasm for working in the life sciences.

Several teachers and volunteers who help students build crucial skills and gain insight into the life sciences, were interviewed for their candid experience working with MassBioEd. Here is a sample of their responses filled with anecdotes and inspiring messages to consider as we all move forward to cultivate a diverse and talented life sciences workforce in Massachusetts and beyond.

In what capacity have you worked with MassBioEd?

“My career in education spans 20 years. When I came on board in my first teaching job at Swampscott High School, the school had just received an equipment and supplies grant from MassBioEd for gel electrophoresis units and I was hired to help put them to use in science classes. When I moved to Sandwich High School as the Assistant Principal, we received a grant from MassBioEd for equipment. As part of that, the BioTeach team came into the class to work with the teachers and support the implementation of new hands-on labs. I then worked at Brockton High School where MassBioEd provided workshops, individual coaching, supplies, and more. MassBioEd was instrumental in the development of our phenomenal biotech program. I have now been at Pembroke High School for two years and look forward to working with MassBioEd as we review and revise our curricula.  We [MassBioEd and I] have walked together for my entire career and I am extremely appreciative for this long-standing partnership.”

Jon Shapiro, K-12 Science Curriculum Supervisor for Pembroke Schools

“Everett High School has worked with MassBioEd for the past 10 years, receiving grants for equipment and training and sending teachers to the intensive Summer Institute, among career exploration day visits for students.

– Nancy Cianchetta, Science Department Chair, Biotech Teacher, and STEM Lead Teacher for Innovation Pathway, Everett High School

I became a Career Ambassador officially two years ago. I had done events for a few years with MassBioEd before that as well. I enjoy that I can work with a broad range of students, from middle school to graduate school. My experience varies from group to group. Depending on which level of students I am speaking to, I will discuss types of careers and/or how my career progressed.

– Eric Perkins, Senior Director of Customer Experience, Addgene

“Among a $10,00 equipment grant awarded to North Attleborough, MassBioEd helped me start an entire elective at the high school called Biotechnology. I also personally was given a lot from MassBioEd, such as knowledge and skills that I didn’t have coming out of college.”

– Geoff Burgess, Head of Science Department, North Attleborough High School

“I started working with MassBioEd in my first year at Lawrence High School when the BioTeach team conducted a training for the Biology Department. I completed the week-long, intensive Summer Institute at UMass Amherst the following summer. During the Summer Institute, we learned in lab all day and completed homework and problem sets at night. I felt so much more confident after that week because everyone on staff is so knowledgeable and brilliant. Since then, I have participated in a handful of Professional Development workshops with BioTeach. Equipment can be a barrier, but MassBioEd helped me with acquiring the materials I needed to implement the labs through an equipment and supplies grant. My students also participated in a college exploration event, which they reported was their favorite field trip.

– Kaitlin Dinet, Merrimack Biology Seminar & Advanced Honors Biology, Abbot Lawrence Academy

“I’ve served on advisory groups, career fairs, as a Career Ambassador and led a breakout group discussion at the Life Sciences Workforce Conference. All have been informative and great experiences. It is simply an honor to work with individuals who help MassBioEd fulfill its mission. I am really excited to continue working with individuals in this capacity. MassBioEd helps students see how the different angles of STEM education and industry work together, so they can see themselves in these roles.”

Fadie Coleman, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Sciences & Education and Director, Biomedical Laboratory & Clinical Sciences Program, Boston University School of Medicine

What stood out to you as unique about MassBioEd’s programs?

“Being able to experience the lab before bringing it to your students and being able to bring it to the classroom immediately. This is a marker of great professional development. The topics are completely implementable and allow teachers to work with actual equipment and perform actual labs. The BioTeach team is instrumental in helping with implementation as well.”

– Geoff Burgess, Head of Science Department, North Attleborough High School

“The Career Ambassador Program addresses the needs of students over a very wide breadth. It’s an ambitious goal to find people who can speak to different levels. MassBioEd has done a great job of thinking about the different steps along the process, including talking to community college students. No one is excluded. The program doesn’t just cater to different audiences but is offered in different formats, such as panels, break out group workshops, specific talks. There are many different opportunities and I always get something new to do when I volunteer, which is fun and keeps me engaged.”

– Eric Perkins, Senior Director of Customer Experience, Addgene

“The flexibility of the curriculum is awesome. It allows you to string together labs for an entire course or cherry pick labs for specific units in specific grades. The training allows teachers to get trained for free with PDPs [professional development points]. Because there is no money from the district for PD, this is hugely valuable, as it allows teachers to stay current in their field, associate with others, and stay up to date on current science techniques.”

– Nancy Cianchetta, Science Department Chair, Biotech Teacher, and STEM Lead Teacher for Innovation Pathway, Everett High School

“I don’t know of many active organizations focused on working with youth in biotechnology to incentivize them to enter the industry after school. The career options are not showcased readily. MassBioEd is trying to make sure there are enough people from schools and colleges to fill the shortage of workers in a highly specialized industry.”

– Paul Fabre, Client Services, BioBridges

“The biggest thing that differs from other professional development opportunities and labs found online – beyond the BioTeach team availability – is that there is a focus on really understanding the content and biology behind the labs. If the teacher is not clear on the content or reasoning, then they will be unable to explain it to students successfully. BioTeach labs are intentional in framing the labs to both teachers and students. In particular, the Summer Institute not only provided me with an in-depth refresher on microbiology and lab techniques, but also the skills and confidence to set up and run a functional lab in a classroom. The availability of the team to help is incredibly valuable to me as an educator as well.”

– Kaitlin Dinet, Merrimack Biology Seminar & Advanced Honors Biology, Abbot Lawrence Academy

What or who inspired you to work in the life sciences?

“Jim Micorelli, my science teacher at Everett High School when I went there as a student!”

– Nancy Cianchetta, Science Department Chair, Biotech Teacher, and STEM Lead Teacher for Innovation Pathway, Everett High School

“I had a good relationship with my PhD Supervisor at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He gave the first science talk in graduate school that I understood from beginning to end. I realized an important part of being a good scientist is to be able to communicate your science and latched onto that idea of being a good communicator.”

– Eric Perkins, Senior Director of Customer Experience, Addgene

“A mentor, Ted Deluke, AP Biology Teacher at North Attleborough High School. He is constantly adding new curriculum to his classes and is a great practitioner. MassBioEd helped him teach techniques and lab skills to other teachers and students.”

– Geoff Burgess, Head of Science Department, North Attleborough High School

“Picturing myself as a scientist did not become a reality until I met encouraging mentors, who treated me like a scientist from the very first day. It was as an undergrad that I came to realize my penchant for research. I discovered the world of medical research through a college summer internship my senior year. After getting a taste of what it was like to work in a lab, I was hooked and have been drawn to scientific research ever since.”

– Fadie Coleman, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Sciences & Education and Director, Biomedical Laboratory & Clinical Sciences Program, Boston University School of Medicine

“My mom is a special education middle school science teacher, so I have always been exposed to both science and education from a young age. I also loved my AP Chemistry teacher in high school. She worked as an engineer in industry before transitioning to education. I found a safe space in her classroom, and she believed in me, which ultimately inspired me to pursue science.”

– Kaitlin Dinet, Merrimack Biology Seminar & Advanced Honors Biology, Abbot Lawrence Academy

Where would you like to see MassBioEd’s programs evolve to? Where do you see the most growth potential?

“I would like to see a place where biotech teachers can communicate, like an online forum that could be facilitated and would bring people together to discuss best practices and new opportunities. I would like to be able to get back in touch with other teachers I’ve met through BioTeach workshops.”

– Nancy Cianchetta, Science Department Chair, Biotech Teacher, and STEM Lead Teacher for Innovation Pathway, Everett High School

“I’d like to see the targeting of programs to communities more at risk. For example, could we create high school apprenticeship programs? Or perhaps MassBioEd could help create science clubs and science fairs in these same at-risk community schools, providing more volunteer opportunities for industry professionals, focusing on areas that need it most.”

– Melanie Cerullo, Sr. Vice President of Quality and Regulatory, Arranta Bio

Why do you continue to teach or volunteer? Why do you feel it is imporant?

“There is an opportunity for the next generation to improve upon conditions in which we all live. From an individual perspective, how do we help each student live a happy, healthy, and productive life? Be a positive member of their community? From a group/population perspective, how do we help our own society move forward and develop an understanding based on logic, reason, and evidence? How do we create opportunities for that next generation to go places that we didn’t know to ask about?”

Jon Shapiro, K-12 Science Curriculum Supervisor for Pembroke Schools

I view my role as a scientist and educator as one charged with great responsibility to prepare students well with appropriate STEM workforce competencies. The pursuit of science studies is often likened to entering a professional learning community, and I count it a privilege to work with those who are our future. My goal for all students is for them to learn about themselves as students and understand how they can achieve their personal best in a consistent manner. I know first-hand the difference opportunity can make in one’s career trajectory.  And, I know how much of an impact it had on me to be introduced to the science community and have someone see my potential and say to their colleagues, ‘this is someone you should meet.’ Hearing myself described in this way made a world of difference. I knew that I had something to offer and that I belonged. It’s important to not just support students but also help them see their potential and expose them to strategies and skills that can help them thrive and be successful.  It’s about learning who you are and appreciating that you have something to offer.”

Fadie Coleman, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Sciences & Education and Director, Biomedical Laboratory & Clinical Sciences Program, Boston University School of Medicine

“I wish I had these kinds of opportunities when I was in the early stages of my career. I floundered a bit after my post-doc – there was little guidance around career options and development. I am happy to give that help I didn’t get. Also, I meet great peers in other areas of the industry. It’s fascinating to hear about how others got to where they are in their careers. Plus, I learn a lot too. It’s not just me sharing wisdom. I love to hear questions from students. It’s been eye opening to hear about how things have changed over the past year for them.”

Eric Perkins, Senior Director of Customer Experience, Addgene

“I love teaching others about biology and science! As a teacher, it is important to show students that they can achieve their dreams. It is also important to open as many opportunities for students as possible. I don’t expect every single student in my class to become a biologist, but through my classes, they can explore science and see that it is a great place to build a career and future. It is my hope that they learn critical skills that they can use in the future, no matter what they decide to ultimately pursue.”

– Kaitlin Dinet, Merrimack Biology Seminar & Advanced Honors Biology, Abbot Lawrence Academy

We will celebrate MassBioEd’s 20th Anniversary on October 26th at The UMass Club in Boston, MA and live stream. Find out more details here: MassBioEd.org/Champions-for-Biotechnology-Education.

Learn more about MassBioEd’s past 20 years building the life sciences workforce: MassBioEd.org/Celebrating-20-Years