Unlike most of the people we profile, Bruce Jackson doesn’t teach at a high-powered four-year college/university, but instead at a community college – MassBay Community College in Wellesley, MA. Bruce works with one of his students at MassBay CC And it was there that Bruce created – and still runs – the school’s nationally renowned Biotechnology Department. Many of Bruce’s students are non-traditional students – students who had previously had fairly limited opportunities in their lives. But now, as Bruce likes to say, those same students are making him famous:
“The Barry Goldwater Scholarship is the highest science award for undergraduates in the United States. And our program has produced 18 winners of the Goldwater Scholarship. So we produce more Goldwater Scholars than all the same-tier colleges in the United States combined, and more than most four-year institutions. And I tell my colleagues at MIT, ‘Well, your students are supposed to win the Goldwater, mine aren’t.’ That’s because half of our Goldwater scholars were high school drop-outs and a third of them are single moms. But it isn’t like we confer any magical greatness on these students that they didn’t already have – they just didn’t know they had it.”
The way Bruce’s students have seized their opportunities to shine at MassBay has created something amazing – so amazing, in fact, that Bruce was recently honored at the White House by President Obama. In receiving his award, Bruce recognized that he himself had made the most of his own opportunities – opportunities not available to earlier generations of African Americans:
“My mother grew up in segregated Virginia. And so, never in my life, growing up in New Haven, did I expect ever in my lifetime, would I see an African-American President, let alone be in the White House with him, receiving an award from him. My father had died by that time, but my mother was still alive, and I remember taking the picture of President Obama shaking my hand and showing it to her at the nursing home. She said, ‘Oh, I’m proud of you. Put it on the wall.’”
We all celebrate the work that’s already been done, but even still, we know that not everyone gets the opportunities they deserve. Bruce, from his perspective as a long-time scuba diver, sees an underwater model for all of us – a world where people aren’t judged by where they come from, but by who they are and what they’ve made of the opportunities they have had:
“I think one of the beauties of diving is that there is no ethnicity under the water. There is no gender under the water. You can barely see the face of your diving partner, or anybody else under the water. You don’t think about the ethnicity of the person you’re swimming with, or his or her gender. You think only of their skill sets – if you have a problem, does this person have the skill set to rescue you and get you to the surface? So it is a wonderful social model, which doesn’t quite occur on the surface…. Yet.”
Watch Bruce’s videos, follow his links to learn more about his work and if you have the inclination, ask him a question – about opportunities or otherwise – in the post just below this one.