January 4, 2023

John Woelflein graduated cum laude from Harvard University last spring and works in the red-hot biosciences industry as manager of manufacturing investigations at Vedanta Biosciences Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

He says neither outcome would have been possible without the financial assistance he received from Great Bay Community College more than a decade ago, enabling him to enroll in the college’s highly regarded biotechnology program. When he graduated with an associate degree in 2009, the hands-on experience he gained at Great Bay set him on a trajectory that has taken him to the top of his field and highest echelons of higher education.

“If I could identify one thing that made a difference, it would be Great Bay. I talk all the time about how much Great Bay changed my life and gave me a huge foundation,” he said. “I am incredibly grateful for my time there.”

As an expression of his gratitude, Woelflein recently made a generous donation to Great Bay’s scholarship fund. He hopes his gift will allow others find their passion and thrive in a rewarding career.

“When I first heard about Great Bay, I had spent a couple of years at a traditional private four-year university out of high school. I was in pre-med. I loved science and wanted to help people, and I thought being a doctor was the best way to do that.”

Quickly enough, he learned it was not for him. Woelflein left the four-year school but found a pathway to keep his science dreams alive in Great Bay’s biotech program.

Advances in biotechnology are revolutionizing how doctors diagnose and treat diseases. Great Bay’s nationally recognized biotechnology program prepares students to work as lab technicians, manufacturing associates, quality control and quality assurance technicians, and as validation consultants.

Woelflein learned many things at Great Bay, above all “how to work in a lab,” he said. “Learning how to work in a lab – that actual hands-on experience that you can do at Great Bay – helped me move along a lot faster in the workplace, because I had learned so much in school.”

He applied to biotech and pharmaceutical companies in New Hampshire and Massachusetts after graduating from Great Bay. At his first entry-level job as a manufacturing associate at a pharmaceutical company, his hiring boss told him the hands-on lab experience he gained at Great Bay “was more valuable than the standard four-year degree.”

His lab skills set him apart from his workplace peers. Woelflein advanced quickly, and in early 2016 he landed at Bristol Myers Squibb as a senior bioprocess associate. Again, he impressed his superiors with lab skills. “They were so thrilled how much I accomplished with an associate’s degree, they said they would pay if I went for my bachelor’s degree.”

That’s how he ended up at Harvard. He enrolled there in 2018 with a Sciences Concentration and graduated in spring 2022. When he met with Harvard’s admissions team, he was reminded how much he appreciated the educational foundation that he built at Great Bay. “Every single one of my credits at Great Bay was accepted at Harvard,” he said. “Every single one of them.”

As manager of manufacturing investigations at Vedanta, Woelflein is involved in the development of therapies and clinical trials for new drugs that doctors will be able to use to treat a range of diseases. He’s not a doctor, as he thought he might be when he enrolled at that four-year university all those years ago. Thanks to Great Bay, he’s helping them do their jobs better.

“Great Bay made it possible for me to continue my education at a cost that worked for me,” he said. “That is why it feels very meaningful to do something small for another student who is where I was 10 or so years ago.”