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Bridging the Gap to a STEM Degree

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

WELLESLEY HILLS, Mass. (February 2019) -- When MassBay Community College General Studies Science student, Charles Santamaria, heard about a paid 10-week STEM research summer program at University of Massachusetts Boston aimed at community college students, he knew he needed to apply. The Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program is a partnership between UMass Boston and three community colleges - Bunker Hill, Roxbury, and MassBay Community Colleges. The goal of this program is to support and transition underrepresented community college students to four-year institutions to pursue bachelor’s degrees and careers in the biomedical or behavioral science fields.

“When I heard about this opportunity from MassBay Biology Professor, Judy Elliston, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to get hands-on experience in a research lab,” said Charles. “I really loved how the program was broken up into a two-week lab skills introduction to teach students laboratory terms, understanding the equipment, research ethics and other foundational information. The second part of the program consisted of an eight-week research experience working with master’s and PhD-level mentors which really gives you an inside look into your future career path.”

Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), UMass Boston and its three partner community colleges are the only institutions in New England participating in the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program. MassBay has been collaborating with UMass Boston since summer 2017, with seven MassBay students participating. Of the seven MassBay students who participated, all seven are now attending a four-year university to continue their education. Some students studied enzyme biochemistry, marine toxicology, or amphibian disease, while others, like Charles, researched the bacteria found in insects.

Charles describes this research as an “unbelievable opportunity” for not only his resume, but for understanding his future career path. “Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of people around me going to college, and they certainly didn’t go into STEM fields. I am a first-generation college student, so seeing other community college students like myself doing this research, I know a career in the medical field is attainable,” added Charles.

“It’s a pleasure and delight to work with students like Charles,” said UMass Boston Bridges Program Director and Associate Professor of Biology at UMass Boston, Alexia Pollack. “The Bridges Program provides support, training, and mentorship for students from our community college partners so that they can experience, first hand, what it’s like to conduct research during our 10-week summer program. Students are excited by what they are learning and as the summer progresses, their confidence grows and they see themselves as scientists.”

“I am so pleased and proud to be part of this phenomenal opportunity for our students,” said MassBay Biology Professor and Bridges Program Coordinator at MassBay, Judith Elliston. “Our Bridges students are incredibly excited about what they accomplished and the doors that have opened for them to their futures!”

Charles was able to extend his time in the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program and participate in the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters, continuing his research experience, part-time, at UMass Boston. He also attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Indianapolis, Indiana from November 14 to 17, to present a poster about his summer research and attend constructive career seminars. Charles will be starting UMass Boston in Fall 2019 as a junior biology major.

“This program is truly invaluable for students pursuing careers in science. It provided participants knowledge and experience pertaining to research, while also creating a support system through mentors to build the confidence they need to reach their goals,” said Charles.

MassBay STEM students who are interested in learning more about this program are encouraged to reach out to Professor Elliston.