The Marine Biological Laboratory wants to fill its facilities year-round.
“Part of our plan is to become a much more year-round institution, and we have the facilities and everything to do that,” MBL director Nipam H. Patel told selectmen on Monday, October 7.
Dr. Patel referred to the Loeb Laboratory, which re-opened after renovations in 2010, saying it was “shocking” the building was not used more.
“We have this building for teaching that was renovated about 10 years ago, an absolutely fantastic teaching facility with amazing equipment for teaching, and it is completely full during the summer and empty in the winter,” Dr. Patel said. “There is no reason it needs to be empty in the winter. Many of the things we are striving to do are to fill up our facilities year-round.”
One way MBL will do this is through its recently launched high school program.
“We’re taking that same intensity we offer in our advanced courses and having a six-day version of those courses where we get students to do hands-on genome editing, using CRISPR-Cas9, which you hear about in the news,” Dr. Patel said. “We’re very happy to report that one of our trustees has donated a significant sum of money, so that we can make these courses available to public high school students and charter school students.”
He said MBL has contacted area high schools with the goal of having them take the class during the spring.
In addition to launching the new high school program, Dr. Patel said MBL recently received a $100,000 grant from the state to increase its internship program.
Selectmen chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said the town would like more collaboration with MBL.
“It has always been the case that were are looking for collaboration and, from a selfish standpoint, get the most for the town in having this precious resource,” Ms. English Braga said.
Dr. Patel said MBL is is also looking to improve its reputation in the community.
“MBL has an amazing reputation in the scientific community, but the flip side is we have almost no reputation with the public,” he said.
He highlighted some of its offerings, including the Friday Evening Lectures series, the Woods Hole Fourth of July Parade, the Science Stroll and providing public access to Stony Beach and Waterfront Park.
“We feel like we have a very large and very important impact on the community,” Dr. Patel said. “Our community is very important to us.”
The impact is also felt in terms of employment. MBL has approximately 250 full-time staff members, and more than 1,500 visiting staff, teachers and researchers work at MBL during the summer months.
“The amazing thing about this institution, which sets it apart from so many others, is this expansion we see during the summer,” Dr. Patel said, noting the real challenge is attracting people during the rest of the year.
It is also a challenge to attract a diverse applicant pool. MBL participates in the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative.
“We are in a community that is not very diverse. So how do we make our community more welcoming?” he asked. “Our education component has been the most successful at generating diversity. It is hiring staff, getting faculty that are more diverse, that has more work that is required.”
Ms. English Braga said that effort needs to be made throughout the town. She praised MBL for taking the diversity discussion to the larger Falmouth community.
“It was great to see folks from MBL out in the community, really generating that conversation,” Ms. English Braga said. “Some individuals from that initiative came to our committee potluck. That’s something that’s nice.”
She said leading this discussion will help improve MBL’s reputation in the local community.
“We’re really thankful that you took that on,” she said.