Long before Kendall Square’s emergence as the center of the Biomedical Industry in Greater Boston, Just-A-Start (JAS) was an engine of its own. JAS’s Biomedical Careers Program has prepared 25-30 low-income students annually since 1992. With over 500 graduates placed in industry jobs and a 77% in-industry placement rate, JAS’s success has not gone unnoticed. In 2015, the Biomedical Careers Program received a $200K grant from J.P. Morgan Chase and JAS acquired new equipment for the program.
Even though the industry is filled with young people, most of JAS’s students are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Some found the program through Cambridge Housing Authority outreach and others are unemployed individuals with training vouchers. Many are immigrants, some have college degrees, and all of them make a commitment to participate in the program five hours a day, Monday through Friday, for nine months. They cover subjects like genetics, immunology, human anatomy, and chemistry, in addition to hearing from guest speakers and going on facility tours. For Sajan, after emigrating from Nepal in 2009, the program offered a way to build his skills and familiarity with the latest technology, so that he could get a job in a cancer research position. As a cancer survivor himself and former pharmaceuticals researcher in Nepal, Sajan says he is now much more optimistic about establishing a career here.
According to Program Manager Felipe Gomez, it is not uncommon for students to emerge with a transformed sense of self. They are more confident and knowledgeable when it comes to their abilities in math and science. But more than that, Gomez remarks that students feel respected, empowered, and proud of their work. For Jennifer O’Donnell, one of the program’s teachers, the strength of the program lies in the connections that students make with each other, alums, staff, and industry leaders. O’Donnell knows that the family atmosphere JAS creates is one of the reasons the students feel ready to persevere despite the challenging curriculum. Students know that there is a place for them at JAS and in the industry.