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INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY

‘Bridges’ cultivates interest in sciences

By : Rachel Coker


Chad Washington, left, describes the parameters of his research project to Ai Ling Zhou during a June 29 poster session in the Old Union Hall.

Twenty community college students from around the state got a taste of life as a scientist this summer through the Bridges to the Baccalaureate program.

“I had a phenomenal experience,” said Leonardo Ortega, a Broome Community College dental hygiene student who studied pollution in the local watershed. “This has definitely given me the impetus to explore some other career avenues.”

Ortega, an Endicott resident, is married and has three children. “It’s nice to work on a project that’s so closely related to where you live,” he said. “I like the problem-solving elements of the entire thing.”

Bridges aims to encourage students from underrepresented minorities to explore careers in biomedical sciences and continue on for four-year degrees. Binghamton began offering the program in 1998 with funding from the National Institutes of Health. Students receive $2,500 for their work during the five-week program and are guaranteed admission to Binghamton as long as they meet certain grade requirements in two years of community college. About 40 percent go on to enroll here.

“This summer was extra special,” said Don Blake, associate dean of Harpur College and program administrator for Bridges.

This year, for the first time, faculty members from the five participating community colleges attended a day of workshops at Binghamton. The sessions were designed to get educators talking about the teaching of science, Blake said, and were led by Broome Community College and Binghamton University faculty members. Topics included introductory labs as well as academic honesty.

“It really was collaborative,” Blake said. He said Binghamton faculty members are eager to participate and find that it’s a great way to share their expertise. “We have more volunteers than we need,” he said. “They really care.”

The program has been so rewarding for Blake that he plans to continue working on it with program coordinator Beth De Angelo even after his upcoming retirement.

The stories of students like Chad Washington are what make the whole undertaking worthwhile.

The Syracuse resident, a nontraditional student majoring in accounting at Onondaga Community College, studied an aquatic plant native to Adirondack lakes. The plant grows in places that are nutrient-poor. Washington experimented with different types of sediment to see how it would respond.

The 26-day experiment piqued Washington’s interest in continuing on to a four-year degree, which he hopes to do this fall at Binghamton. “The environment is wonderful,” he said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of support.”

Washington said he did find some connections between what he has studied previously and his new work in biology. “As a business student, preparation is key,” he said. “It’s the same in the lab.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08