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Bioversity welcomes first class in Dorchester

Eight-week program stresses life sciences skills

Avery Bleichfeld
Bioversity welcomes first class in Dorchester
Guests tour the new lab space for Bioversity, a life science workforce development program in Dorchester, at the program’s grand opening Jan. 4. BANNER PHOTO

The life science workforce development program Bioversity welcomed its first cohort of students Monday at its new lab space in Dorchester.

The 20 students will pioneer an eight-week curriculum focused on lab operations skills developed by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, with the goal of bringing more people from diverse backgrounds into a field that experts say is going to grow by 42,000 jobs by 2032.

“We aren’t trying to reach just anyone. We have been making a dedicated effort to recruit people who have traditionally been left out of the life sciences workforce,” said Zach Stanley, Bioversity’s executive director, at a grand opening event held at the program’s space in the Southline building Jan. 4.

According to numbers released by the program, all 20 students identify as either Black or Hispanic. Sixteen hold only a high school degree or have some college education, and 15 are currently either unemployed or only have a part-time job.

The cohort is a boon for life sciences, said officials from The American City Coalition, which runs the Roxbury Worx program, an initiative focused on getting more Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan residents into science and health care roles.

Bioversity Executive Director Zach Stanley addresses attendees at the workforce development program’s grand opening Jan. 4. The workforce development program, an offshoot of MassBio, aims to take students through an eight-week course that will set them up for entry level lab operations jobs. BANNER PHOTO

“It’s what we want to see,” said Rev. Willie Bodrick, president and CEO of the coalition. “We want to make sure that folks who are middle-skilled workers have real opportunity in the city of Boston. The cohort is reflective of the great diversity of this city.”

Half of the students are from Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan, Stanley said at the program’s opening last week. Another six are from other neighborhoods, and the rest come from outside of Boston.

State and local officials, who were also at the event, celebrated the program’s efforts around diverse and equitable workforce development.

Mike Firestone, Boston’s chief of policy and strategic planning, said Bioversity hopes to get students in “life-changing” careers. Graduates will receive a certificate from Bioversity and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

“Our goal here with Bioversity is to help ensure that the success of this sector is felt in our neighborhoods, including right here at Dorchester,” Firestone said.

He said the city invested more than $100,000 in Bioversity as part of a multimillion-dollar initiative aimed at strengthening workforce development in the biotechnology sector.

“We’re really excited by the big bet that we’re making here with Bioversity,” he said.

State officials also expressed a sense of urgency in boosting the life science industry, even amid a string of successes.

“This is not the time for us to rest. This is not the time for us to hang out and take a nap,” said Yvonne Hao, the state’s secretary of economic development. “This is a time for us to continue to lead, to double down and to reinvest in all of the important things because as successful as we’ve been, there’s still more work to do.”

The program is designed to get students entry-level jobs and provide critical training working in a lab, building a resume or nailing job interviews.

“We’re raising the floor on entry-level talent,” said Stanley, urging companies to hire the graduates. “You’re no longer going to have to go to Indeed or LinkedIn and hope for the best for somebody that’s never worked in the industry. You’re going to have people that are work-ready, know what it’s like to work safely in a lab setting [and] have an understanding of how to be a professional.”

Bioversity, which is looking to expand to multiple locations, hopes to welcome its second cohort in March. Applications for the program are considered on a rolling basis. The goal is to graduate 100 people this year, Stanley said.

Lauren Jones, the state’s secretary of workforce development, said the state also hopes to add more people to the program.

“It’s also an amazing opportunity to provide these pathways that we need especially for our diverse talent that’s often overlooked and underrepresented in industries like the life sciences,” Jones said.

Bodrick, The American City Coalition president, who is also a Roxbury pastor, said he hopes that participants who graduate from the program will “testify” about its benefits.

“[They] can testify themselves about this great opportunity and the ways in which this has changed their lives,” Bodrick said. “We want to make sure that we do that for each and every person in our community [who] has the interest to do that.”