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From Nahant to the Galápagos: Northeastern Alum Gregory Lewbart’s Journey of Discovery

From a college student at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania to a fish veterinarian at North Carolina State University’s Veterinary School, Dr. Greg Lewbart credits his current success to Northeastern University’s Master’s program.

Greg Lewbart poses with a parrot on St. Vincent.

Since Lewbart was 14 years old, he wanted to pursue veterinary school. After volunteering for a local veterinarian, he went to school as a biology major at Gettysburg College. While he was not a stellar student in his first few years, Lewbart was at the top of his class in his senior year, an academic position he attributes to the teaching styles of Dr. Robert D. Barnes.

Barnes’ Invertebrate Zoology class shifted Lewbart’s interest to marine biology in record time.

“We went to Bermuda and I got to do all this snorkeling and marine biology. And I thought ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.’”

Because of his new interest in marine biology, Lewbart decided to apply to Northeastern University for graduate school as well as veterinary schools. He had come across a Northeastern flyer detailing available spots for graduate students at the Marine Science Institute, now known as the Marine Science Center, in Nahant, MA, started by Dr. Nathan “Doc” Riser. When he took on this opportunity, he met Dr. Patricia Morse.

Greg Lewbart and Tim Van Wey getting ready for dive at East Point in Nahant as graduate students at the Marine Science Center in 1982.

As Lewbart reminisces on his time at Nahant, he recalls a significant impact Riser and Morse had on finding his footing as a graduate student.

“When Dr. Patricia Morse found out I went to Gettysburg and I took Invert Zoo with Dr. Barnes who wrote one of the main textbooks on the subject, she kind of scooped me up to be a TA in her advanced class,” Lewbart said.

He felt grateful for the advantage that position put him in, as a graduate student assisting an advanced class. On top of this opportunity, Riser was his advisor with a mentorship style that especially inspired Lewbart.

“Doc was this sort of perfect combination of hands-off mentoring not micromanaging you but if you needed a correction to get you back in the lane, he was there for that. And that worked well for me.”

After his work at Nahant with Northeastern, he was accepted into UPenn’s veterinary program which led him to working in the ornamental fish industry in Philadelphia. Despite pursuing veterinary studies further in Pennsylvania, Lewbart brings his origins back to Northeastern.

“If it wasn’t for Northeastern and my time in Nahant, I’d be doing something else,” Lewbart said. Northeastern inspired a sense of seriousness in his studies out of him that he did not have before.

“Without my Northeastern experience, I don’t know how I was going to get into vet school because I needed to show the U Penn veterinary admissions committee that I could cut it academically, and I did.”

Now, Lewbart teaches veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University. Almost 30 years ago, UNC Chapel Hill researcher Kenneth Lohmann was in need of a veterinarian who could take care of his sick sea slugs: a perfect job for Lewbart. From then on, Lewbart occasionally took care of sea animals by taking blood, noting vital signs and so on for Lohmann when needed. In 2013, Lohmann invited Lewbart onto a project in the Galápagos Islands because UNC was building a science center on the islands.

Greg Lewbart teaches students how to draw blood.

“I started learning how to do work in a developing country with a different language and a different culture,” Lewbart said. “We got some productive work done, started publishing papers and it’s really been building. We initially started doing health assessments of different species like sea turtles, tortoises, marine iguanas, and sea lions.”

Lewbart’s work in the Galápagos is far from unnoticed. His work, which was accumulated from 28 visits so far, has been featured on BBC and in a 2023 PBS special titled “The Marine Iguanas’ Unusual Shrinking Adaptation.”

Studying at the Marine Science Center and going to veterinary school gave Lewbart an upper hand he was not expecting. From there, he’s additionally gotten the chance to work in the Turks and Caicos and other islands in the Caribbean. But on top of that it’s created a functional work environment between him and his colleagues.

Greg Lewbart operates on a 68 lbs catfish in the life support system area at a Bass Pro Shops in Concord, NC.

“When you’re a veterinarian that can work with wildlife and aquatic animals, you’re a little bit like, as I tell my students, a Swiss army knife,” Lewbart said. “You may not know as much about the animals or their natural history or the research, but you can do things that biologists can’t do, or aren’t used to doing.”

When asked about what advice he would like to give to graduate students, he’s honest with the reality of his original academic intentions. When he applied to graduate school, it was essentially a means to getting into veterinary school. But now with research projects around multiple foreign islands and marine life specials on air for all to watch, he thanks graduate school.

“Northeastern was life-changing for me and probably the best decision I ever made.”

Photos courtesy of Gregory Lewbart

June 17, 2024

Northeastern University’s Roux Institute celebrates 174 graduates during third commencement ceremony in Portland, Maine

Courtney Bloniasz, the student speaker at Northeastern University’s commencement in Portland, Maine, said to view her address as a thank you note to the Roux Institute that is transforming the lives of individuals everywhere.

It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last time she shared what she said “has affectionately been called my ‘Roux love story.’”

Bloniasz, who received her master’s degree in analytics Friday, said it was a special privilege to speak to the graduates in the class of 2024 in Merrill Auditorium.

It was the Roux Institute’s third commencement ceremony. This year, 174 graduates ages 23 to 60 received master’s degrees and master’s level certificates in fields including computer sciences, analytics, project management, biotechnology, bioinformatics and engineering.

Michael Pollastri, senior vice provost and academic lead for the Roux Institute, applauded the graduates for their pioneering role in helping to establish the institute.

“You each began your studies in the earliest days of our institute. You took a chance on us, understanding the vision and mission of the institute to build the technology and life science environment here in Maine,” Pollastri said.

Read more from Northeastern Global News

Photo by Flatlander Photography for Northeastern University

June 15, 2024

Roux PhD Student Aims to Make Maine the Next Biotechnology Hub

Most kids dream of being an astronaut or a racecar driver. Griffin T. Scott was a little different.

“Even when I was little, I was always drawn to the ‘mad scientists’ on TV, like Dexter’s Lab or Dr. Who,” he says, laughing.

It makes sense that, today, Griffin is pursuing a career in the sciences, working on a project that seems straight out of science fiction, asking the question, “if salamanders can regrow lost limbs, eyes, even parts of the heart, why can’t we?”

Griffin, who recently earned a master’s in bioinformatics at Northeastern University’s Roux Institute, is not afraid to make bold claims about the possibilities of biotechnology. “I’ve always thought, medicine is about helping people live longer, healthier lives. Yet, when it comes to aging, the degenerative disease we all get, we’re just supposed to experience it naturally rather than pushing back.”

In speaking with Griffin, it’s clear his passions are deep and many. His academic journey began as an undergraduate student at McGill University in Montreal where he double majored in history and biology. He enjoyed the convergence of the two topics, particularly thinking about the impact of scientific development on human society. Griffin witnessed this firsthand during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the virus altered global structures while also driving advancements in biotechnology.

Read more from The Roux Institute

Photo Courtesy of Griffin T. Scott

June 10, 2024

Graduate Student Experience Spotlight: Andrea Pires, MS in Cell & Gene Therapies

What is your major, and when are you graduating?  

My major is Cell and Gene Therapies. I am expected to graduate in the Fall or Spring of 2025 depending on how long my co-op is.  

Why did you decide to enroll at Northeastern University and pursue an advanced degree in Cell & Gene Therapies?   

Northeastern has always been a dream school of mine. I wanted a program that would help me hone my skills and knowledge in cellular and molecular biology. I wanted to be as prepared as possible when I enter the workforce. The Cell and Gene Therapies program’s curriculum had everything I was looking for, but the co-op opportunity is what really sold me. I wanted to join a program that would not only allow me to hone my skills and knowledge but also gain real hands-on work experience.  

Tell us about your experience in the program. 

My experience in the program thus far, has been beyond what I expected. In just two semesters, I learned so much about the history and current landscape of stem cell research, breakthrough cell and gene therapies, and how to develop python programs to handle bioinformatic datasets. All of which will hopefully help me stand out amongst other candidates as I begin applying to co-ops and beyond. 

What is/was your favorite part of the program, and why?  

My favorite part of the program so far was probably the Stem Cell and Regeneration Course. I found it extremely informative and fascinating. This field of research is constantly changing, and Dr. Monaghan did a really good job of providing us with the necessary background knowledge which put the more recent research breakthroughs of the field into context. I am also enjoying the Bioinformatics course. I don’t have much coding experience but have really grown to enjoy it throughout this course.  

Did a COS faculty or staff member help you excel in this program?   

The professors and TAs that I have encountered have all been extremely helpful with any questions that I might have. The Program Director Sahar Tavakoli and Associate Director Suzzette Turnbull have also been extremely helpful and attentive throughout the program. They have set up program mixers and provided internship opportunities. I was able to meet fellow CGT students and start an internship to get more hands-on research experience.  

What are your post-graduation plans?   

I plan to work in the biotechnology industry in the research and development of cell and gene therapies. I have not specialized in any specific sub-field just yet.  

Tell us about your work experiences. 

I am fresh out of my undergraduate studies and have no industry experience. However, I did conduct research in my undergrad on marine bacterial isolates. Specifically, we investigated the growth rates of known isolates and characterized unknown isolates to inform antifouling mechanisms. Currently, I am participating as an intern in the research of intact protein analysis at Northeastern’s Biopharmaceutical Analysis Training Lab.  

Do you have any advice for students (both grad and undergrad) pursuing Cell & Gene Therapies? 

For students considering Cell and Gene Therapies, I would say it is a great program and is perfect for those who enjoy molecular and cellular biology, especially genetics. The curriculum does a great job of exposing its students to the newer and more innovative topics in cellular and molecular biology.  

As for students currently in the Cell and Gene Therapies program, the key to success is utilizing every single resource that is provided to you. Taking advantage of office hours and extra lecture reviews is the key to being successful. Ask for help whenever you feel you may need it. 

June 10, 2024

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