My name is Kenn Turner and I write to you having just entered my second full month as President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC). As a partner in our education and workforce mission, I am reaching out to you with a call to action during an important time for our life sciences sector, our Commonwealth, and indeed our nation.
It goes without saying that the current pandemic changed so much in the way we live, work, and even communicate. We are all figuring out how to make it through this new normal, but I know I am not alone in continuing to be struck by how communities of color are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Moreover, we continue to see young people having their educational journeys disrupted greatly as our partners in education continue to meet the challenges brought on by this public health crisis. Most concerning, educational inequities have only increased, and the opportunity and achievement gaps continue to widen.
Yet I want you to know directly from me that I am bullish on our ability to continue to overcome these challenges, in part by building upon a decade-plus of MLSC investments in the next generation of life science professionals. I am proud to lead an organization that has been a global leader in supporting the growth of a diverse talent pipeline through a robust workforce development strategy providing thousands of internships, extra-curricular lab training programs, and grants that increase access to high quality STEM education for economically disadvantaged schools and underserved communities.
However, the current times call for new ideas and innovations, so we may continue to meet the moment for our life sciences workforce. During the launch of the MLSC’s 2021 internship programming last month, we rolled out a series of modifications for our Internship Challenge and High School Apprenticeship Challenge:
- Students and recent graduates of Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) are now eligible to participate in our Internship Challenge, which was previously only available to Massachusetts students and residents. The program creates hundreds of new internship opportunities each year by enabling small companies to hire paid interns.
- Additionally, our high school internship program will now serve mainly underrepresented and low-income students. This year, applicants must be enrolled in or have recently graduated from a vocational technical high school, a public high school located in a Massachusetts Gateway City, a public high school with a student population of at least 25 percent classified as “economically disadvantaged” by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or enrolled in the METCO Program.
Prior to joining the MLSC, I served as Director of Diversity & Inclusion/Compliance with Massport. I was honored to help lead an effort that would produce The Massport Model, which provided a roadmap for integrating diversity and inclusion into public-private partnerships. I do not look through the lens of diversity and inclusion out of a simple preference or solely because of my personal or professional background. I do so because it is through this lens both the challenges and the opportunities in front of us can be seen so clearly.
Today, I ask you to join me as we chart a new course, one in which embraces the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but also leverages the absolute best of what our Commonwealth is and can be by continuing to invest in the power of experiential learning opportunities for those who have too often been underrepresented in this sector. Moreover, our focus must also be on pairing the opportunities provided by internships with an inclusive culture of support and mentorship for our young people.
These new facets of our workforce efforts are not a cure all. I do not pretend to have all the solutions, nor do I look to you for that either. To the companies and institutions which have been our indelible partners for more than a decade in providing internship opportunities to students, my simple, but sincere message is thank you. But I do know this—diversity and inclusion are not only about equal representation. It is about a strong business case that supports a diverse ecosystem. In other words, we know that the strongest life sciences sector is a diverse one.
I take solace in being constantly inspired by the next generation, the young people of this Commonwealth and nation. It is seeing and learning about their everyday acts and triumphs that one can fully understand the potential we have for a brighter future. They want the chance to thrive. They deserve it. They’ve earned it. Let us provide it to them through career exploration in the life sciences.
During a month in which we rightly spend time reflecting on our past, let’s act together in the present and be collectively the force for change that will move our ecosystem and society forward.
President & CEO
Massachusetts Life Sciences Center