Grant will help underrepresented students earn biotech master’s at NU

By Suha Yacoob, news correspondent

The National Science Foundation awarded a $4.4 million grant to a team of Northeastern faculty Oct. 23 to fund scholarships for low-income and underrepresented minority students at Middlesex Community College to transfer to Northeastern and earn a master’s degree in biotechnology.

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker delivered the announcement at a ceremony at the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Center, or ISEC, attended by leaders from the government, academia and industry.

Bria Hernandez, a third-year biochemistry major who emceed the event, explained how the program enables creative and innovative students, including women and people of color, can effectively contribute to the STEM workforce.

“Not only does this program provide mentorship and support, but it will prepare students for success in the biotech force by providing research experience, paid internships, industry and peer mentorships, specialized advising and other tailored academic and social supports at the Middlesex Community College,” Hernandez said. “I am so grateful and excited for the future outcome of this grant.”

Students who receive the scholarship will earn an associate degree from Middlesex Community College. Then, they can come to Northeastern to complete a bachelor’s degree and apply to the “Plus One” master’s program for biotechnology.

Congressman Joseph E. Kennedy III said the grant will expand opportunities for historically underrepresented groups.

“What we can all attest to is the thirst and curiosity of our students,” Kennedy said. “The growth and opportunities in STEM is immense. However, what we have to acknowledge is that even in a state like Massachusetts, there are so many students that don’t get access to resources that can maximize their potential and this gap is alarming. This is what today is about: to recognize that every child, whether a female or a minority, gets to maximize their potential.”

Baker discussed  a new program titled STEM Week, a statewide initiative to gain support for education in science, technology, engineering and math.

“STEM is simply not about science, technology, engineering and math,” Baker said. “It’s about how those particular disciplines find their way as we become more and more digital and connected virtually into every aspect of work.”

Lt. Governor Karen Polito, a co-chair of the state’s STEM Council, expressed her enthusiasm for STEM Week and outlined the grant’s objectives.

“We are proud that we are accomplishing together but must also be reminded that we have so much more work to do in this area,” Polito said. “We have to include more women and people of color in life sciences and STEM fields, and this scholarship will enable 500 students to benefit from it.”

Vertex Pharmaceuticals CEO Jeffrey Leiden, whose company will provide internships and mentoring to scholarship recipients, emphasized the importance of gaining practical experience in STEM.

“Science is not about memorizing formulae,” Leiden said. “It’s about doing experiments and we need to make sure that our young people get this chance to exercise their energy by the provision of internships, because again science is also not about studying, it’s also about working.”