Summer research leads Front Range students to CSU

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This year’s B2B participants

This summer, eight Front Range Community College students spent 10 weeks gaining valuable research experience in Colorado State University laboratories. They were supported by a National Institutes of Health-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program called Bridges to the Baccalaureate (B2B), which provides support for community college students studying science.

CSU has partnered with Front Range on the five-year, $1.2 million grant, aimed at increasing opportunities for underrepresented minorities, first-generation students and Pell Grant recipients. B2B helps students make the transition from two-year junior or community colleges to four-year baccalaureate programs. A key part of B2B is the REU, launched this summer, specifically targeting Front Range students.

Meet the Students

The B2B program accepted eight students from Front Range into the REU program this summer. Of those eight, five will transfer into CSU in the fall. The students come from a variety of majors, and the B2B program places students into labs that best fit their interests. This summer, they worked in plant biology, chemistry, biochemistry or psychology labs.

“Although this program emphasizes biology and psychology research, it caters to individual interests and places students into a lab that corresponds with their field of study,” biology student Holly Perretta said. “Everyone’s experience is really different because of the various science labs and velocity of each one.” Perretta worked in the lab of Melinda Smith, professor of biology, primarily with graduate student Ava Hoffmann. Smith’s lab studies plant ecology and human-induced changes in ecosystems.

After being placed into a CSU faculty member’s lab, the students learned the ins and outs of conducting research, and worked on assigned projects relevant to their fields of study.

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Holly Perretta measuring grasses in the CSU greenhouse

“I have more of an ecology focus, which makes my research a little different because I am doing lab work and field work,” Perretta said. “The lab work is mostly genetic testing, while the field work has me traveling to different sites, including Boulder, Kansas and the Eastern Plains, where I work in greenhouses and collect grass samples.”

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Students participating in team building

Although these programs have different emphasis depending on the students, they all included a final project. “The information we are learning is more at a graduate level in my opinion. This is not a standard opportunity that most undergraduates get,” said chemistry major Andrew Candia, who worked with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jamie Neilson, a researcher of new materials for energy conversion and conservation.

While the program emphasizes research basics, the students also got to participate in outside social activities. “Outside of fully understanding lab procedures, we participate in other activities like white water rafting, hiking, attending the lagoon concerts and taking trips to Denver,” Gabriela Munoz Ramirez, a biochemistry major, said. Ramirez spent the summer in the lab of Jennifer DeLuca, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, who studies the mechanisms of chromosomes. Primarily, Ramirez worked with postdoctoral researcher Lydia Heasley in DeLuca’s lab.

Setup for success

The B2B program also provides the chance to explore CSU and what it has to offer before officially transferring. “Most Front Range students don’t come from large campuses, so it is beneficial to get used to the dynamic of this campus before all of the fall students arrive,” Candia said.

“B2B sets students up for success in the STEM fields and provides the opportunity to explore what they’re passionate about,” Munoz Ramirez said.