New grant puts Queensborough students on road to science careers

Queensborough Community College in BaySide. // Photo courtesy of CUNY.

Queensborough Community College in BaySide. // Photo courtesy of CUNY.

By Paula Katinas

A federally-funded program that helps Queensborough Community College students move on to four-year colleges so they can begin to pursue careers in the biomedical field has gotten a big boost with the renewal of a $1.6 million grant, City University of New York (CUNY) officials announced on Monday.

The grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will allow Queensborough Community College to extend the NIH’s Bridges to the Baccalaureate program for another five years.

“When I started college, I had no idea what biomedical science meant. But in retrospect the Bridges program was a perfect fit for me,” said Vanessa Almonte, a Queensborough graduate who is now a Ph.D. candidate in cardiovascular biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “I developed a strong curiosity for biology and I learned first-hand how to design and conduct an experiment, perform literature searches and foster long-lasting relationships with mentors. Eventually I presented my research findings at national conferences.”

Almonte began her pursuit of science while attending Queensborough Community College. Her enrollment in the Bridges to the Baccalaureate program inspired her interest in science, she said.

The Bridges to the Baccalaureate program, which began in 1993, is designed to assist community college students, including minority students, make the transition to from community colleges to four-year degrees and then pursue careers in the biomedical or behavioral sciences.

The five-year NIH grants go to colleges that award associate’s degrees and work to forge partnerships with four-year colleges. The program offers research training, experience and mentoring to qualifying students.

Several students who have entered the program over the years have gone on to earn doctoral and medical degrees.

In the 25 years since its inception, the program has assisted nearly 700 students at the three schools, according to CUNY officials. About half of those students have gone on to graduate from four-year colleges with baccalaureate degrees. That’s nearly four times the graduation rate for community college students overall.

Dozens of students have completed Master’s Degrees and 18 students have earned medical degrees or science Ph.D.s.

Another success story is Carlos Correa, who emigrated from Colombia when he was 16 and dreamed of becoming a doctor. One of his teachers at Queensborough urged him to apply for the program. He graduated with a biology degree from City College this year and has been accepted into two medical schools.

“The Bridges program opened the door for me to the world of science and gave me the boost of confidence I desperately needed. 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,” Correa said.

In addition to Queensborough Community College, the program is available at LaGuardia Community College in Astoria and the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.

Acting CUNY Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz said the program’s impact can be seen in the experiences of the participating students.

“The program’s success can be observed in the hundreds of CUNY students, primarily those from underrepresented groups, who have completed associate’s degrees, continued their science education at CUNY senior colleges and later launched their careers,” Rabinowitz said in a statement.