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After Expansion, CityLab Graduates First Class of Boston Residents

Continuing education program provides biotech training to local community

CityLab Academy graduate Hussein Syed (r) with Mayor Thomas Menino.

Christine Silva, 49, had thought about going back to school for years, but she always found some reason to put it off. When she saw an advertisement for CityLab Academy, a nine-month biomedical science training program at the Boston University School of Medicine, she decided not to put it off any longer.

After more than 20 years away from the classroom, Silva, an administrative assistant in the assessing department at Boston City Hall, expected to be nervous, self-conscious, and overwhelmed entering the program. What she didn’t expect was to maintain a 4.0 GPA or to develop a love of bioinformatics, the collection and analysis of genetic data through computer programs.

On May 17, Silva was one of 26 students graduating from CityLab Academy, at a ceremony in MED’s Hiebert Lounge. She represented this year’s class as valedictorian.

“I needed to do something more with my time, a challenge,” she says. “This has given me a new outlook on what I’m capable of doing.”

Silva isn’t the only one who believes that the Certificate of Biomedical Laboratory Science she has earned offers her a fresh start. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) and University President Robert A. Brown and his wife, Beverly Brown, echoed the sentiment at yesterday’s graduation.

“The two biggest industries in Boston are education and health care,” Robert Brown told the graduates. “You are at the nexus of these two industries.”

CityLab Academy was created in 1991, when director Connie Phillips, a MED assistant research professor, established a pilot program with Department of Labor money to help the unemployed gain the technical experience they needed for laboratory jobs in the biomedical field. Phillips said more and more students who complete the CityLab Academy program enroll in bachelor’s programs.

“My goal next year,” she said, “is to graduate 42 students.”

BU has helped expand the program by funding a $1 million initiative to provide biomedical research and biotechnology job training to approximately 100 Boston residents. The program is free for accepted Boston residents with a high school diploma. CityLab students take Metropolitan College biomedical courses with BU undergraduates. This year’s graduating class is the first to graduate from the expanded CityLab Academy.

The initiative couldn’t come at a better time for Boston, which boasts more biotech companies than any U.S. city except San Francisco. Genzyme, for example, is expanding in Massachusetts, Bristol-Myers Squibb has broken ground for a plant in Devens, and the global headquarters of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics and Chiron will move to Cambridge this year.

Silva would like to continue her education and pursue a career in bioinformatics. “I’m throwing around a lot right now,” she says, adding that it’s nice to have options.

Nicole Laskowski can be reached at nicolel@bu.edu.