The Year Up Greater Boston graduate, who wanted a place to make an impact, is living her career dreams at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
At the end of her time in Year Up Greater Boston’s learning and development phase, Gaelle Akaliza filled out a survey about the company she hoped to match with for her internship. Most students write a couple sentences. Instead, Gaelle wrote a two-page essay, all about her desire for a career in pharma at the leading biotech firm Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
“I wasn’t even thinking about getting hired. I just knew I needed to get in and see what this company was all about,” said Gaelle, who had previously researched Vertex as part of a Year Up presentation project. “I wanted a place where I was acknowledged and valued as a woman of color. Moreover, I’m passionate about helping others and being part of the force that drives necessary changes in our society. Vertex is that solution for the patients we serve. When I learned of the environment that was curated to allow women to lead and take initiative in science, technology, and quality to provide transformational solutions, it really captured my heart.”
Gaelle got her wish and then some: her internship in 2021, as part of Year Up and Vertex’s first-ever biotech pilot, launched her into a full-time position as a Quality Assurance Coordinator. In that role, Gaelle specializes in inspectional audit management—managing the documentation presented to different regulators and auditors—and supports the company’s GxP archive.
“Gaelle is very interested in learning and is always enthusiastic,” said Gail Faria, Senior Manager, Quality and Gaelle’s manager. “I’ve enjoyed working with her because she displays a great energy in wanting to do things the right way. She demonstrates the ability to be so adaptive to the day-to-day challenges, knowing quality is of the utmost importance.”
A native of Rwanda, Gaelle came to the U.S. at 17 years old. Her family went straight to Biddeford, Maine, both a cultural and weather shock. She first heard about Year Up in high school, from a classmate who was also from Rwanda, but decided to apply to colleges instead. She started attending Suffolk University in spring 2020; when COVID-19 hit and she had to go back to Maine, the questions Gaelle had about the time and costs spent on a major she was uncertain about bubbled to the surface.
Her friend’s success at Year Up gave Gaelle the nudge she needed to apply to the program. During the learning and development portion, she earned certifications in platforms like Microsoft Excel and SCRUM and gained valuable skills in project management, business communications, and networking.
I wouldn’t have this job if I hadn’t networked and stepped out of my comfort zone. Year Up always pushed us to reach out to different individuals to form connections. Having that kind of encouragement, along with the tools that were provided to me, taught me how to be confident.Quality Assurance Coordinator, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Gaelle translated that confidence into her internship, which was remote at first given the pandemic. Even though most of her team was virtual, Gaelle made a point of coming to the office and shadowing people in different roles.
“Gaelle was fantastic,” said Jacki Jackson, Associate Director, Quality Standards, Training, and Improvements, and Gaelle’s internship manager. “Managing her was exciting, and she always brought so much excitement and initiative to the team. Watching her grow in her role and take on new challenges within managing the GxP archive was amazing.”
“The internship exceeded my expectations,” Gaelle said. “Jacki always treated me like an equal and like my voice mattered. Everybody I came across was so willing to help and give me guidance. The more I networked and connected with different people, the more I was able to shape my future.”
That future: her full-time position when Gaelle completed her Year Up internship in January 2022. She continues to emphasize learning and networking, with plans to explore different functions of the company, such as QA training, communications, and public affairs. Gaelle is also pursuing her degree in health care management and communications from Southern New Hampshire University and is mentoring five of Vertex’s new Year Up interns to provide support, guidance, and another friendly face at the company. A total of 20 Year Up interns are participating in the program’s second pilot, supporting Cell and Gene Therapeutics teams in roles such as Manufacturing Tech, Quality Assurance, and Material Handler.
“Reshma Kewalramani, Vertex’s CEO and President, often says you have to climb as you pull,” Gaelle said. “The higher you go, the more responsibility you have to lift others up. Companies need to know that investing in Year Up allows them to give young adults the opportunity to shape their careers and build their communities. I’m grateful for the partnerships between Year Up and companies like Vertex. It creates a better community for everybody.”