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Worcester Tech students credit UMMS support as key to biotech career path

By Bryan Goodchild and Megan Bard

UMass Medical School Communications

May 17, 2018

Worcester Public School officials, the city manager and students thanked UMass Medical School on Tuesday, May 15, for an $875,000 donation that has enabled the biomedical and health program to thrive at Worcester Technical High School.

“If it wasn’t for the UMass Medical School donation, I would not be as confident as I am now in my career path,” said Marielys Rodriguez, a junior in the biotechnology and allied health programs, who plans to study clinical psychology.

“The young biotechnologists coming out of this program are walking into labs and colleges mentally and academically prepared to encounter high-tech equipment that most people don’t experience until their second year of college,” said Rodriguez. She will intern this summer in the lab of Neal S. Silverman, PhD, professor of medicine.

In 2013, the medical school donated $1.575 million to the city of Worcester to support two city programs: the establishment of satellite public libraries in four elementary schools as part of the One City-One Library initiative and investment in the Worcester Tech health and biotech program.

In addition to receiving classroom education and training in their respective fields, Worcester Tech students participate in off-campus internships including at UMMS. Medical school faculty, led by Robert Layne, MEd, assistant dean for outreach programs and instructor in radiology, also participate in the biotechnology program’s advisory board.

Worcester Tech Principal Kyle Brenner told the audience of about 30 people, seated in an upper floor conference room at the tech high school with views of the city, that the UMMS donation has been critical to the support and development of the bioscience and life science programs.

“It has not only provided much-needed material and equipment for the program, it has also enabled us to provide the students with the ability to practice the much-needed skills in these fields so they can develop with confidence and perform these tasks in the real world,” he said.

Cielo Sharkus, a 2015 Worcester Tech graduate who is now a senior at WPI and research intern at UMMS in the Department of Pathology, was one of the first students to benefit from the medical school’s investment. She told Chancellor Michael F. Collins and other UMMS representatives that she credits the support from her teachers and the medical school’s donation for enabling her to succeed in college.

“I owe all my expertise and confidence as a scientist to Ms. V. It was her confidence in me and your funding that helped me succeed as a first-generation student at WPI,” Sharkus said, referring to Johanna vanderSpek, the high school’s biotechnology department head.

Timothy McCarthy, a senior at Worcester Tech who has recently been working in the lab of David Grunwald, PhD, associate professor of RNA therapeutics, said he never expected to receive this kind of training at a high school.

“I’ll always be grateful for that,” McCarthy said, adding that he’s specifically enjoyed the opportunity to work with tissue culture and transforming live bacteria.

Senior Adwoa Sefah has a shared experience through working in the lab of Christelle Anaclet, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology. Sophomore Josephine Essuman said she specifically chose to come to Worcester Tech because of the biotech program so that she can prepare for her future medical education.

Chancellor Collins told the students and Worcester Tech staff that he was moved by the young people he had a privilege to meet the first time he visited the school several years ago.

“What I felt was extraordinary about what went on within these walls is that the faculty and the community that is assembled here actually made hope an expectation,” Collins said. “Where you may come here and say, ‘I hope I can be a physician; I hope I work in tissue culture; I hope someday I can go over to UMass and work in a lab.’ By your presence here at Worcester Tech that hope has actually become expectation and each one of you in your own way is going to enjoy success. For that, I am grateful.”

In addition to Collins and Layne, several UMMS deans, faculty and staff attended the event. They include: Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medical Education, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean of the School of Medicine; Mary Ellen Lane, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; James B. Leary, JD, vice chancellor for community and government relations; Kola Akindele, JD, senior director of the Office of Community and Government Relations; Gary Ostroff, PhD, professor of molecular medicine; and William E. Theurkauf, PhD, professor of molecular medicine.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette covered the event. Read the full Telegram story here.