NIH Grant

Merritt Students in NIH Grant Program
On Their Way to Bright Careers in Science
Scott Aposhian never thought he would go to college. In fact, he wasn’t even interested in high school and dropped out when he was barely in the 10th grade. Today he is headed to UCLA to study molecular and cell biology with the dream of becoming a doctor. Though he may have had other influences in his life to get to this point, the chance to participate in Merritt’s Bridges to Baccalaureate Program was definitely a major factor.

“This opportunity came at the perfect time,” says Scott, who became interested in science once he was back on the education track. “I wasn’t sure if the course loads would be too crazy. But I knew that if I was accepted into this program, I would  get the help I needed to get through. I was overwhelmed at the time, and this was a glimmer of hope.”

The Bridges to Baccalaureate program is Merritt’s name for the National Institutes for Health Grant which counselor Tanya Ilarde helped develop and co-counsel in for six years. It provides support to underrepresented students who want to pursue a four-year degree in the  sciences. Each year, the grant has helped 7 to 10 students reach their goals by partnering with UC Berkeley’s Center for Educational Partnerships to provide tutoring, counseling, and an 8-week paid  summer research internship on its campus.

“It’s been a great collaboration of efforts with our four-year partners, our science faculty and our student services staff towards transfer,” says Tanya, “and it’s been a thrill to see our students’ achievements.”

Along the way, Dr.  Jennifer  Shanoski, Chemistry Department Chair, has taken the lead as science faculty to direct the grant program and encourage her chemistry students and others who met the demographics to apply for the program.

“From a science perspective, community college students don’t have the chance to do research or look at what science really  is,” says Jennifer, who earned her Ph.D. at Cal.  “An opportunity to do research gives them a leg up not only in their experience but when they are applying to transfer. It’s a unique experience. I didn’t have that opportunity in my own first two years of college.”

It was that research experience that changed David Quintanilla’s mind about the field of medicine. “It was a totally different experience than I thought it would be, and it opened my mind toward going into research,” says David, who will continue his work at UC San Diego this  summer before heading to UC Berkeley to study bio chemistry and molecular biology.  “It exposed me to the whole research  environment. I worked with instruments, and I learned about new technologies. Doing the research really boosted my application.”

Alice Onu came out of her summer research with a new accomplishment to put on her resume – creating an enzyme.
“I worked in an infectious disease lab finding out whether bacterias were resistant to disease or causing it. After hours and hours with my lab mentor, I finally got it, and I was able to clone the disease and create an enzyme. It was really enlightening.”

Since that time, Alice has been at UC Santa Barbara studying psychology, but she is now thinking of making a change toward more of a medical career.  “This program helped me in a lot of ways, she says. “You don’t hear about students like me given the chance to go to Cal and work in a lab for free for the summer.”
Sierra Selby was studying kinesiology at  Merritt and nervous about taking a chemistry class when she heard about the program. “I always thought science was too hard—until I took Dr. Shanoski’s class.

She’s a great teacher and super passionate and she makes everything interesting.”

Sierra delayed her 8-week research lab because of work, but this summer she will get work in a genetics and neurobiology lab. She became interested in the topic after taking a biology class from instructor Hank Fabian who then suggested she take Merritt’s class in genomics. She really liked the topic and the high-tech equipment at Merritt’s Alameda facility.

“That class really got me interested in the subject,” she says. “I’m hoping the lab and my courses at Berkeley will help me narrow down my field of science. I’ve had nothing but good experiences in this program!”

For more information, call Tanya Ilarde at (510) 436-2559.