Gov.-elect Charlie Baker encounters recipient of his own scholarship during visit to UMass

Last modified: Friday, December 05, 2014
AMHERST — Squeezed between scheduled events during his visit to the University of Massachusetts Amherst science facilities, Gov.-elect Charlie Baker ran into a student who received a scholarship he established.

UMass junior Patrice Charlot of Brockton is among the recipients of the Charles D. Baker II Scholarship, named for Baker’s grandfather, after writing an essay about her mother. They met in a hallway of the Integrated Sciences Building where Baker shook her hand and told her he was moved by her essay before taking a “selfie” with her.

“I didn’t know he read it,” said the 21-year-old Charlot, a bit star-struck after her encounter with the governor-elect.

Baker started the scholarship in the early 2000s as a way to honor his grandfather who did not have the opportunity to attend college. However, he made sure his three children did, including Gov.-elect Baker’s father.

“Myself and my father started contributing to it over time and then I had the chance to start reading some of the essays the kids wrote in applying for the scholarship,” Baker said to reporters at the end of his visit. “They are amazing kids, just truly remarkable young men and women who made me really glad that I had decided to do this in the first place.”

Charlot said her essay centered on her mother, who gave up her dream of becoming a nurse and continued to work to put her children through school. Her mother came from Haiti and still sometimes works for 16 hours at a time, Charlot said.

A public health and sociology major, Charlot hopes to work in Africa and eventually work with low-income families.

She said she was grateful to Baker for the scholarship. “I don’t know how I would have gone to school otherwise,” she said.

Baker had a private meeting with Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy and several other university officials before hearing from two program directors and about a dozen students at the Life Science Laboratories and the Integrated Science Building.

Baker listened to presentations by Peter H. Reinhart Institute, director of the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, about translational life sciences research and by James Watkins, a polymer science and engineering professor, about body sensor patches and nanotechnology.

Reinhart described his institute’s efforts to create a wearable device to measure brain activity in people who have been diagnosed with diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

The Institute for Applied Life Sciences emphasizes development of products or research that can be used by the public rather than publishing research, he said.

Watkins likewise talked about how the Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing, where he serves as director, has the goal of speeding up possibilities for manufacturing and contributing outside the academic sphere.

The students Baker met in the Integrated Concentration in Science program were researching topics including air and water quality, hydrogen fuel cells, airport security, food production, plants used for energy, and proteins related to breast cancer.

Baker encouraged the students, whom he called entrepreneurs. “There are many paths to a solution,” Baker said. “If any one of you succeed in your project, that would be a really big deal.”

Following the student presentations, Baker and Subbaswamy answered questions in the lobby of the Integrated Sciences Building. Baker said he appreciated the way UMass has an impact beyond the borders of its campus.

“I’m a big fan of ways in which our educational community can be part of our larger economic development strategy,” Baker said.

Baker said the key to making higher education more affordable is to provide more options. He said Massachusetts should be a leader in online education as well as finding ways to offer options for degrees that could be completed in less than four years.

Subbaswamy, who joked with Baker about his absence from the campus during the campaign, said he expects he would visit often now that he has been elected.

“This is the commonwealth’s flagship,” Subbaswamy said. “We contribute to the region in so many ways that I have no doubt that (Baker) will ... understand the value of this campus as Gov. (Deval) Patrick did.”

Subbaswamy said he was glad to introduce Baker to some faculty and students, but said he would have liked to show him some of the aging facilities on campus. The state has a role in keeping them up to date, he said.

“Certainly the next time I’d like to show him other parts of the campus, the good, bad and the ugly,” Subbaswamy said.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.