Jalbert attributes her career success to the educational foundation she built at GBCC from 2005 to 2007.
It didn’t take long for Katrice Jalbert to go from feeling helpless to feeling hope, thanks to Great Bay Community College.
Jalbert, 34, was recently hired for a Senior Manager position overseeing cell therapy manufacturing at biotech giant Bristol Myers Squibb in Massachusetts. She attributes her career success to the educational foundation she built at Great Bay Community College from 2005 to 2007.
Jalbert was not a great student in high school and came from a family without a background in education. Her primary responsibilities growing up involved helping her single mother, who worked two jobs, raise her two younger sisters. In high school, her family moved from apartment to apartment almost every year, and Jalbert worked outside the house to earn money.
“High school was really hard for me. I didn’t have a sense of focus and wasn’t held accountable until the teachers started calling home and said, ‘Katrice isn’t doing any homework.’ But I didn’t see the value of doing homework or being present,” she said.
That changed when a chemistry teacher at Newmarket High School identified Jalbert’s aptitude for science and encouraged her to participate in pre-college biotechnology science program presented by Great Bay, enabling her to take college-level classes as a high school senior.
She enjoyed the class and enrolled at Great Bay after graduating high school, becoming the first in her family to graduate from high school “at the right time and go to college at the right time,” she said, noting that her mother earned her GED in her late 20s.
Great Bay changed her life and her ambitions.
Prior to Great Bay, she worked as a camp counselor and in the fast-food industry. “Great Bay gave me the real-world view of what was available locally. Plus, I didn’t have to live on campus in a different state or have to travel very far,” she said. “Great Bay introduced a lot of life skills I wish the high school would have provided me.”
She quickly understood that success in biotechnology would mean a career with a good salary and the opportunity for a quality of life that had once felt unattainable. At Great Bay, she said, “they explained biotech is such a way that showed me the light. I got my foot in the door, learned the basics and then realized the future could be anything I wanted it to be,” she said. “They painted my path to a career.”
Motivated to do well, Jalbert learned effective study habits, earned good grades, and landed an internship at international bioscience company Lonza, nearby on the Pease Tradeport. At Lonza, she worked in every department two weeks at a time. “I saw everything from the bottom up at age 18. I was introduced to a whole world of possibilities. I made it my mission to get hired at any level I could after I finished my studies.”
She did better than that. Lonza hired her as a nighttime operator before she graduated with her associate of science degree from Great Bay in 2007. “I worked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night and did school during the week so I could finish school and get hired full time. None of that would have happened if not for Great Bay,” she said.
In two years’ time, Jalbert progressed from feeling hopeless in high school to feeling enthusiastic about her life and career, and she never looked back. She spent 12 years at Lonza, moving through the ranks from “doing everything on the floor” to writing and editing technical documents that made the floor operations run more smoothly and then into supervisory and leadership roles.
In 2018, she left Lonza and followed her dream to California for a job as manufacturing supervisor at Kite Pharma, and came home to the East Coast with the onset of the pandemic. She continued her career as a project lead and manufacturing manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Cambridge, Mass., and joined Bristol Myers Squibb in Devens, Mass., in November 2021. At Bristol Myers Squibb, she is the senior manger in charge of cell therapy manufacturing.
In a job full of responsibilities, her primary focus at the moment is working as project manager for a new building that is coming online at the Devens site and supporting all floor operations associated with it.
Now fully present in her success, Jalbert looks back at her life and how far she has come with both pride and amazement. “I had no stability growing up, but now I own my own house, I own my car, and I support my daughter. I never would have thought 15 years ago that I would be where I am now, and I have the opportunity to do more.”
Indeed, Jalbert is a young leader on the rise in the field that is developing answers to the pandemic and curing people of cancer at the same time.
“I have security in my career. It’s not going away anytime soon,” she said.
And for that, she thanks Great Bay Community College — and one very persistent high school chemistry professor.