CELS Professor Leaves Legacy of Excellence in Biotechnology

biotechnology

Dr. Gregory Paquette looks at the University of Rhode Island’s Biotechnology Center with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Launched 30 years ago under his leadership, the center has grown from one fledgling graduate degree into six diverse programs designed to send scientists into the workforce ready for employment in medical laboratory, bio-manufacturing, and the life sciences industries. Paquette’s passion and innovative approach to biotechnology instruction have made a permanent mark on URI’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) as he plans to retire in May of 2017. “The thing I’ve loved the most about being at URI is the freedom I’ve been given to develop new programs,” reflects Paquette on his tenure with CELS. 

Paquette began his career at URI in 1982, when he started overseeing the bachelors in medical laboratory science program on URI’s Kingston Campus. Now he directs the Biotechnology Center on URI’s Providence campus, which is recognized regionally as a hub for technical training and includes the following programs: masters in medical laboratory science, with specializations in biotechnology, cytotechnology, medical laboratory sciences, and public health laboratory science; bachelors in biotechnology manufacturing; and biotechnology professional development programs for K-12 teachers and life sciences professionals.

Noting that he could not have accomplished the growth alone, Paquette says that URI and CELS leaders have been key to the center’s success. “The Chairs, the Deans, and the Directors I’ve worked for have all said ‘great ideas, if you can find the money you can do it!’” declares Paquette.

That challenge prompted Paquette to get creative about funding his big ideas, building relationships with private life sciences companies including Amgen, Sanofi Genzyme, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, and over 200 other local businesses. In all, Paquette and the Biotechnology Center have received more than $3 million in grants and support. These public-private collaborations also extend to the Center’s program design and teaching methodology.

Responding to the industry’s urgent need for more qualified personnel, Paquette and undergraduate biotechnology program administrator Dr. Edward Bozzi adopted an innovative approach to instruction called a “one plus three” format. This fast-paced model enabled undergraduate biotechnology and manufacturing students to gain the skills they need to start working in the life sciences field, even before they finish their degrees.

During the first year, students receive intensive training in biotechnology, biomanufacturing, and laboratory methods, providing the foundational skills needed for summer internships. According to Paquette, many students receive job offers after their internships in year one, which they can accept while continuing to pursue their degree, part-time, for “plus three” years.

“My proudest moment is when I go to commencement and students get their degrees and their families are there, and most of them have already gotten employed! To me, that’s the payoff,” Paquette asserts.

In retirement, Paquette looks forward to conducting research in the field of global health as a CELS professor emeritus, utilizing his skills in microbiology, laboratory medicine, and infectious diseases for a common good. He offers advice to future students considering a career in science: know your options. “I get students coming to me all the time saying ‘why didn’t I know about this program?’” Paquette concludes, “there is nothing worse than a student not finding their true niche or interest.”