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“Choosing a school is not about pedigree. It’s about the educational opportunity offered, and an intellectually challenging environment.”
Hometown: Brookline, MA
Major: Associate Degree in Forensic DNA Science
When Carolyn Lanzkron reflects on her two years at MassBay, she smiles. “I didn’t get that community colleges weren’t just about adult education before I came here. Choosing a school is not about pedigree. It’s about the educational opportunity offered, and an intellectually challenging environment.”
Carolyn is graduating in May 2013 as one of MassBay’s most accomplished scholars. She has achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average in one of the College’s most rigorous area of study, the internationally renowned Forensic DNA Science program, and has been awarded membership into Phi Theta Kappa the national honors society for two-year institutions. She was selected as a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Fellow in 2012, was nominated by MassBay President John O’Donnell for the All-USA Academic Team and named to the all-Massachusetts community college academic team, and selected as the Chief of Forensic Peer Mentors in MassBay’s Biotechnology Program.
Because of Carolyn’s scientific prowess and organizational skills she was appointed Chief Mentor for the Forensic DNA Science Program and [forensic] Case Manager. These positions are the two highest honors the Biotechnology Faculty can bestow on a student. Never in the Department’s 20-year history has a student held both positions.
In April 2013, Carolyn was awarded a 2013 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in Science and Engineering for academic excellence in science and mathematics. Established by the United States Congress in 1986, the Goldwater Scholarship is the highest and most prestigious science scholarship in America.
“Intellectually, Carolyn is a genius,” says Dr. Bruce A. Jackson, a professor of biotechnology and forensic DNA science, who serves as chairman of the Biotechnology Department at MassBay. “Because of her dazzling intellect and great career potential as a scientist, I have no doubt she will ultimately edify scientific research and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts over many years of what will surely be a stellar career.”
But it wasn’t Carolyn’s career that led her to enroll at MassBay – it was the career of one of her five children. One of her sons left a four-year institution and was trying to figure out what to do next. Carolyn stopped by MassBay to learn about what programs were being offered. As she stood in the Advising Office on the Wellesley Hills campus, the Forensic DNA Science program piqued her interest. She knew he had done well in chemistry, so she thought he would want to take a chemistry class. So, “on a whim, I signed up for the class,” she recalls with a smile.
While her son wound up a business major and never took chemistry, Carolyn went on to become among the most decorated academics in MassBay history.
“The opportunities I got here are truly remarkable,” she says. “At an elite university, a lucky few get to perform their own research. Here at MassBay’s Biotechnology Program, all our students are engaged in research from the moment we enter the program. We are encouraged to follow our curiosity while perfecting our lab techniques. When we enter the program, we are given our own lab bench space, dedicated equipment, and unlimited access to the lab. Unlike so many other lab experiences, where the reagents, equipment, outcomes, and time allotted to perform experiments are proscribed and monitored very closely, Dr. Jackson encourages us to repeat techniques until we have achieved mastery, to troubleshoot experiments until problems are resolved, and to develop our own protocols and refinements of technique. We are given the opportunity to design experiments, not just perform them.”
Like many MassBay students, Carolyn is returning to college after an extended hiatus from school or the workforce. After a five year career as an electrical engineer, Carolyn took 20 years to raise four girls and one boy. “I told people I was on vacation,” she says. “I mean, what do you do on vacation? You spend time with your kids!”
When she arrived at MassBay in May 2011, Carolyn experienced “culture shock. They called me `professor’ because I was much older than many of them. So much had changed in the 30 years since I had been in college.”
But in the end, she says, “I’ve had a blast; I am having the time of my life here. I realized that community college isn’t just a path forward when there are no others, it is a path one might choose even when there are many other paths available.”
She credits much of her success to Dr. Jackson and MassBay’s Biotechnology Department. “I respect and admire his vision,” Carolyn says, “He created a program modeled after Ph.D. programs, and fit it into the format of an Associate Degree. We work on a grand project that spans our tenure in the program, and all program lab work relates to that project. We mentor one another. We engage in real bench science from the beginning. Those in the Biotechnology Program are working on real breast and prostate cancer research. In the Marine Biotechnology Program, they are working at real sites to study the effect of the Montserrat Volcanic ash, and at the San Juan Estuary to uncover the sources of its pollution. There is a team developing a Remote Underwater Surveillance System (RUSS) submersible for the study of otherwise inaccessible urban waterways. In the Forensic DNA Science Program, we work on real cases.
“The outcomes are unknown and the work we are given is meaningful. From our first moments in the program, our lab work isn’t busywork; it might actually matter. Who would have thought all this was available for undergraduates anywhere, much less at a community college?”
As an expert in DNA forensics, Dr. Jackson is frequently asked to provide analysis on cases before The Innocence Project. The Project is a national nonprofit founded in 1992 dedicated to exonerating falsely imprisoned for circumstances that could be proven wrong by DNA evidence. Since its inception, the Innocence Project has freed more than 300 innocent prisoners. Dr. Jackson turns to his students for help on these cases.
“All police departments and attorneys worldwide who come to us for forensic help must go through Carolyn who synthesizes and prioritizes the cases,” explains Dr. Jackson. “Cases range from murder and sexual assault to unidentified human remains. Students also perform appellate cases in behalf of prisoners on Death Row or accused of major crimes. For example, MassBay Forensic Science students co-authored the amicus brief that challenged faulty DNA evidence in the appellate case Bruce Derr v. Maryland that led to Mr. Derr’s exoneration and release from prison. No other forensic program in the nation provides students with these kinds of real-life experiences.”
“It is a collaborative, generous environment in the Biotechnology Department,” says Carolyn. “If we see someone struggling with a concept or project, we take time out to help one another. We share textbooks, and teach one another.”
She also notes the impact diversity has had on her experience at MassBay. “Better science comes of it,” she says, “MassBay has wide diversity over any metric you could choose to measure – economic background, race, life experience, academic background, attitude, aptitude, age – you name it. I have seen how this yields more robust, richer outcomes. When collaborating amongst a diverse group, excellent and unexpected questions and suggestions abound. Often the poignant questions that pinpoint the path forward come from the outside range of a multiplicity of views.”
“Dr. Jackson takes in his students as the raw materials for his program,” Carolyn explains, “He forges them into sciences. He makes people realize what they have inside. It is truly inspiring.”
Carolyn Lanzkron becomes the 19th Goldwater Scholar produced by MassBay Community College. Like her former classmate Corporal Kenneth Moreno (USMC), who won a Goldwater Scholarship in 2012, Carolyn was the only winner among the 271 nationwide representing a community college. No other community college in America has produced more than three winners.
“The entire MassBay community is extremely proud of the accomplishment of Carolyn Lanzkron in earning this prestigious scholarship,” said MassBay President Dr. John O’Donnell. “That we can proudly recognize our 19th Goldwater Award winner also reinforces the national prominence of the biotechnology program that Dr. Bruce Jackson and his colleagues have built here.”
After graduating in May 2013, Carolyn enrolled at MIT to pursue a S.B. in Biology, conduct research in entomological genetics. She hopes to teach at the university level.
“To say the MassBay Biotechnology Program exceeds expectations doesn’t do it justice,” she says.
Carolyn Lanzkron graduated with a 4.0 GPA in May 2013 with an Associate Degree in DNA Forensic Science. She earned a 2013 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the highest and most prestigious science scholarship in America, and is now a student at MIT pursuing a S.B. in Biology.