NIH Aid for More Students to Advance to B.S. Degrees

A $1.6 million grant to Queensborough Community College from the National Institutes of Health will extend CUNY’s participation in a program that has helped hundreds of students advance from associate degrees to baccalaureates in the sciences — and in some cases ultimately all the way to doctoral and medical degrees.

Jasmine Hatcher

When I started college at Queensborough I was planning to be a nurse. Then I got a taste of research through Bridges and other programs for minority students. That changed everything. — Jasmine Hatcher, who earned her Ph.D. in chemistry at the Graduate Center last August and is now a post-doctoral fellow at Brookhaven National Laboratory

Students and faculty at Queensborough, LaGuardia Community College and the New York City College of Technology have been part of the NIH’s Bridges to the Baccalaureate program since its inception 25 years ago. The federal initiative was started to help community college students, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups, transition to four-year degrees and pursue careers in the biomedical or behavioral sciences.

Among CUNY’s success stories is Carlos Correa, who emigrated from Colombia when he was 16 and thought his status gave him little chance of fulfilling his childhood dream of becoming a doctor. He began to think differently after one of his teachers at Queensborough invited him to apply for the Bridges program. It led to research opportunities in microbiology — and a newfound belief that he could pursue his aspirations. Correa graduated with a biology degree from City College last year and he’s been accepted by three medical schools for next fall.

“The Bridges program opened the door for me to the world of science and gave me the boost of confidence I desperately needed,” Correa said, adding: “There are many students like me out there with the potential to succeed and accomplish great things, but who need a little push in the right direction. This is especially true for minority students who often face more significant challenges in education.”

The five-year NIH grants go to colleges that award associate degrees and forge partnerships with four-year colleges to offer research training, experience and mentoring to promising students. Nearly 700 CUNY students have been part of the program at Queensborough, LaGuardia, and City Tech since its inception. About half have gone on to graduate with baccalaureate degrees —nearly four times the national rate for community college students overall. Dozens have completed master’s degrees and 18 alumni of the program have earned medical degrees or science Ph.D.s. Several others are currently in medical school or doctoral programs.

– Carlos Correa, who graduated with a biology degree from City College and heads to medical school next fall

Bridges opened the door for me to the world of science and gave me the boost of confidence I desperately needed. – Carlos Correa, who graduated with a biology degree from City College and heads to medical school next fall

Vanessa Almonte

I developed a strong curiosity for biology, learned how to design and conduct experiments and formed long- lasting relationships with mentors. Eventually I presented my research at national conferences. — Vanessa Almonte, who graduated from Queens College and is now a Ph.D. candidate focused on cardiovascular biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

I came from Pakistan and went to LaGuardia to take basic English courses. But I really wanted to discover what my potential was. The Bridges program helped me tap into what I’m passionate about. — Saima Ishaq Machlovi, who graduated with a neuroscience and chemistry degree from Hunter College and is now a fourth-year Ph.D. student in neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

 

“The goal is to increase the diversity of students who receive advanced degrees in biomedicine or behavioral sciences,” said Patricia Schneider, a Queensborough biology professor who oversees the college’s Bridges program, a collaboration with Queens College and City College. “It succeeds because they get research experience while they’re obtaining their associate degrees in science, giving them a competitive edge when they transfer. We also put great emphasis on post-transfer support and advising, including alumni mentoring. That’s crucial.”

CUNY’s participation in the NIH Bridges program dates to 1993, when LaGuardia was awarded one of the first rounds of grants. Some 400 LaGuardia students have taken part since then.

“Community college students typically don’t see themselves going beyond two-year degrees, and the important thing this program does is open them to bigger possibilities,” said Hendrick Delcham, a professor of natural and applied sciences who oversees the program at LaGuardia. “It gets them to think not only about four-year degrees but far beyond. It allows the faculty to involve students in their research, and that gets students to think about science as a career path.”