LaGuardia Community College and Brown University Receive Funding From The National Institute of General Medical Sciences to Partner on Research

September 11, 2013 | LaGuardia Community College

Long Island City, NY—September 11, 2013—LaGuardia Community College is among four New York colleges, and the only community college, partnering with Brown University on a collaborative science research project to expose minority students to the sciences.  The project is funded by a three-year grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to Brown University.

The TRAINING (team-research and inter-institutional networking) for Success in Biomedical Research Careers project, teams up Brown with LaGuardia and three other minority-serving institutions—York College/CUNY, St. John’s University and the College of Mount Saint Vincent—on student-linked projects.  The goal is to enhance the academic and training experience and opportunities for students who are under served in the sciences as well as to support faculty development and training.

Dr. Thomas Onorato, a LaGuardia biology professor, and at least 10 students each year, will be working with Dr. Gary Wessel of Brown on research that will help them to gain better understanding of the mechanisms involved in egg-sperm binding in the sea star (starfish). LaGuardia students will assist Dr. Onorato in sample preparation, experimental design and implementation, and presentation of results to the larger scientific community.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of this program,” said Dr. Onorato. “I strongly believe that enrichment of the science curriculum at the community college level will significantly contribute to the mending of the broken pipeline leading to underrepresented students achieving graduate degrees in the biomedical sciences.”

Throughout the 2013-2014 academic year, Dr. Onorato and his students will conduct their research at LaGuardia.  In the summer, one student will be selected to travel to Brown University, located in Providence, Rhode Island, where he or she will continue their research for 10 weeks in Dr. Wessel’s biology lab.  Dr. Onorato will join his student for one week for a chance to work alongside them and receive training in the new techniques that the young researcher has learned during the summer internship.

“This program is a two-way learning opportunity,” said Professor Wessel.  “Science relies on different perspectives to be efficient in its advances. Having students of various levels of education, and from different cultural backgrounds, enhances our capabilities, and in turn, we are capable of training the next generation of scientists. We are all better scientists from this in the end.”

“This in a unique learning opportunity for me,” Dr. Onorato said.  “Along with being mentored by Dr. Wessel, my student, who might know a bit more about the new techniques than I, will be training me.  This experience is removing the barrier of the faculty-student relationship by having the student become a fellow colleague and co-researcher.”

In lieu of a thesis, the LaGuardia students will create an ePortfolio, an electronic collection of student work that will include documentation on their research at LaGuardia and their summer internship, reflections on their experience, videos that chronicle their lab work and a formal research report.  The student on the summer internship will also keep a journal in their ePortfolio for Dr. Onorato to read and provide feedback.

“Creating an ePortfolio will capture the richness of this experience for both student and faculty participants in a way a written senior thesis alone cannot do,” said Dr. Onorato.

His student researchers will not be the only ones benefiting from the research program.   He plans on introducing aspects of this research in his capstone biology course and will have his students culture cell isolated from the sea star.

Dr. Onorato began his collaboration with Dr. Wessel in 2010 as part of the Visiting Professor Program sponsored by the American Society for Cell Biology’s Minority Affairs Committee (ASCM MAC) program.

“The programs offered by the ASCB MAC have played a vital role in my development as a teaching faculty and as a scientist,” said Dr. Onorato.  “This new partnership with Brown University, supported by Dr. Andrew G. Campbell’s T36GM101995-01 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institute of Health, will leverage this and further enhance my faculty development.”

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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.

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