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Geoffrey MacGillivary


Geoffrey MacGillivary-180

“I was nervous at first. Being out of school for 11 years, I was especially nervous about the workload.  But the teachers at MassBay made the transition easy.  I was really lucky to get some great professors like Javdekar, Bograd, Llyod and Riggs.  They’re professional teachers – they want your professional skills to shine.”


Age: 31
Hometown: Billerica, MA
Major: Mechanical Engineering

Geoffrey MacGillivary says he comes from a “working background.” 

“I never thought I would go to college,” he says.  “I never thought I was smart enough.  I had to go to summer school just to get into high school.”  Today Geoffrey is thriving in MassBay’s Mechanical Engineering program, his work has been presented at a national conference, he has earned a prestigious paid internship at one of the nation’s top engineering school, and in March, 2014 he earned one of the highest honors on campus: the 29 Who Shine Award.

Geoffrey grew up in Billerica, Massachusetts and graduated from Shawsheen Technical High School in 2001.  His grandfather, cousin and uncle were all pipefitters, so he began doing it too.  In fact, Geoffrey says his grandfather was one of the first pipefitters in Boston.  He stayed in the plumbing profession, joining the Boston Pipefitters union and working primarily as an x-ray welder in commercial and industrial projects in and around Boston, including the W Hotel and the Baer plant in Walpole.

“The money was pretty good,” says Geoffrey, but the volatility of the business was difficult.  He says sometimes he had steady work, but sometimes there was no work to be found.

In January 2010, on his birthday, Geoffrey was laid off.  He knew then that he needed to make a change. 

“I realized I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  I needed something more secure,” he says, “I spoke to my grandmother, who was really the backbone of my life, and we agreed that I needed to go back to school if I was going to find a career.”

For the next two years Geoffrey worked as an oil-heat technician for Devaney Oil Company during the day, and using online resources, he retaught himself algebra and trigonometry.  He also studied geometry.

As he began looking at schools, he became interested in the Francis School of Engineering at UMass-Lowell.  In speaking with a counselor in their undergraduate admissions office, Geoffrey was advised to take a look at MassBay.  She described the MassTransfer program to him, where graduates from Massachusetts community colleges are automatically accepted into any Massachusetts public four-year institutions.  Those that excel academically are given a break on tuition as well.  She also told Geoffrey that MassBay’s STEM programs were outstanding.

By the summer of 2012, Geoffrey’s was ready to put his hard work to the test.  He attended SOAR, MassBay’s summer orientation, and completed a math and English workshop to prepare for the placement tests.  And then he was thrown a curveball.

“My grandmother had passed away a few weeks before the test,” Geoffrey explains.  “I had given her a Boston Bruins t-shirt in 2011, when they won the Stanley Cup.  She wore that t-shirt every game they played during the playoffs – afraid that if she didn’t wear it the team would lose.  After her funeral I was given her t-shirt back.”

“On the placement test, there happened to be a question that required me to create a t-shirt, and all these emotions just came over me,” Geoffrey explains.  “I just froze.”

A few weeks later, Geoffrey retook the placement test, and increased his placement from MA 90 to MA 106, and into EN 101.  He was ready for college.

“I was nervous at first,” Geoffrey admits.  Being out of school for 11 years, “I was especially nervous about the workload.  But the teachers at MassBay made the transition easy.  I was really lucky to get some great professors like Javdekar, Bograd, Llyod and Riggs.  They’re professional teachers – they want your professional skills to shine.”

Growing up, Geoffrey was “very mechanically inclined.  My father was an ASE Hall of Fame mechanic – his name is in Detroit.  And that’s where my passion is.  Studying things I am interested in.”

His father worked for himself his whole life, and left Geoffrey with a word of advice: “Don’t work with wrenches,” he said.  “Being an auto mechanic is a tough, dirty business,” says Geoffrey, “He passed away last year, but I know he was very proud that I was going to college.  And my being a mechanical engineer would make my dad happy.”

“Being in the union, I brought real-world experience to college.  I had help to build homes, schools, and skyscrapers, and now I was coming to school to learn the theory behind it all,” says Geoffrey.  “It’s kind of backwards I guess, but it seems to have worked for me!”

There is no doubting that.  From June – August of 2013, Geoffrey was accepted into the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Olin College of Engineering in Wellesley. REU is a National Science Foundation funded program that gives college students the opportunity to work with professors and leaders in industry on real-world research projects.  Geoffrey and his team worked on a project to devise ways to improve K-12 STEM education in Massachusetts.  “I had struggled with STEM myself and found it hard to learn, so I loved the opportunity to shape and mold new approaches to STEM education,” says Geoffrey, “We advocated for a more hands-on approach instead of having students be scared of algebra.”

In addition to his work with REU, Geoffrey developed ballast tanks for MassBay’s remote underwater submersible submarine that enable it to rise and fall in the water.  His application for the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship focused on how to use blue-green algae as bio-fuel.  “It’s pretty cool stuff,” says Geoffrey.  “If you slow down their movement and keep light on them, you can generate battery power.”

While watching TV reports of Hurricane Katrina, Geoffrey used his trusty erector set to develop a floodgate barrier.  “For my Engineering Design 1 class final project, I wanted to develop something quick and simple that didn’t have a lot of pieces,” he says.  “I wanted it to be self-sufficient.  I put propellers and wind turbines on it to harness the energy from high surging storms.  The barrier would use that energy, instead of drawing energy from cities that are in the middle of a crisis situation.”

Geoffrey’s Barzakh Barrier was presented at the Rhode Island Dam Safety Conference in the fall of 2013.

“What I really like about mechanical engineering is that you can take something from your mind, put it in your hand, and make it a real possibility,” he says.

In addition to these scholastic achievements, Geoffrey was chosen to be interviewed by FOX-TV when they visited MassBay in October 2013 as part of their college tour series.  But it was in March 2014 that he received his highest honor, being selected for the 29 Who Shine Award.

The 29 Who Shine Award was established in 2011 by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.  Winners are chosen “because of their academic achievements and record of student leadership and community service, (and who) stand poised to contribute greatly to the civic life and economic well-being of the state.”

“It is amazing to win this award,” says Geoffrey.  “Not being scholastically proficient in high school – it just shows that I’ve come a long way.  It means I can’t stop.  This isn’t the end for me, it’s the beginning.  People are seeing and appreciating what I’m doing, and that means a lot to me.  It motivates me to work harder.”

Geoffrey MacGillivary is scheduled to graduate with an Associate Degree in Mechanical Engineering in the fall of 2014. He plans to transfer his credits to UMass-Lowell for his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. He was named MassBay’s 29 Who Shine Award winner for 2014.