For the seventh year, Purchase College is sponsoring a five-week summer research program for students from six community colleges from June 4 to July 6. Forty-three students are working with 10 faculty members from the School of Natural and Social Sciences on projects that range from studying the effects of fats on cancer cell growth, to studying the habitats of turtles in the Great Swamp in Dutchess County, to isolation of anti-fungal agents, to studying how children learn. The summer Program is made possible by funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
The students are part of the Bridges to Baccalaureate and Research and Science Visions Preparation Programs at Purchase College, designed to help underrepresented minority, low income and first generation students interested in the biomedical sciences to make transitions at a critical stage in their development as scientists. The community colleges involved are Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, Westchester, Nassau and Sullivan.
The Summer Research Program has grown dramatically since it began in 2001, when it included just six students. The number of students involved has increased every year.
Students work on individual research projects in groups of four or five along with a faculty member. In addition to daily research, students and faculty attend weekly lunch meetings where they give progress reports and share their experience with other participants. On the last day of the Summer Program, participants make formal PowerPoint or poster presentations of their work at a mini-symposium to faculty, students, staff and their families, which is followed by a celebratory lunch.
The Purchase Bridges Program is unique in that it was conceived as a national model for two-year to four-year collaborations in which a joint admissions program is set up between the community colleges and the baccalaureate institution. In addition to financial and academic support, key elements of the Program include: advising by Purchase faculty; a Community College Lecture Series by Purchase faculty; frequent visits to community colleges by Bridges alumni, the Project Director and Purchase faculty; frequent visits by community college students to Purchase; summer research programs at Purchase; and a senior research project which often builds on the summer research experience. Seniors receive job placement and graduate/professional school assistance through Purchase's science faculty and Career Development Office. After numerous visits to Purchase during the previous academic year and the Summer Research Program, the transition from the two-year institution to Purchase is a seamless, easy and familiar one.
The Program has proven highly successful in its seven years. Of the 117 students who have been through the Program, 83% are completing their associate’s degree (compared to 30% nationally); 71% are completing their bachelor’s degrees (compared to 13% nationally); and 33% are pursuing post-baccalaureate work in various fields of science, engineering, mathematics and technology.
The effect of the Program on the students is palpable. In a recent evaluation of the Program, the evaluator described the student response in the following manner: “All students described the laboratory experience as having an intensity and uniqueness they had not experienced before. Many of the students made a point of saying that the opportunity to do hands-on research with specialized scientific equipment was something that they valued and that was not available at community colleges. Overwhelmingly, the students described the intensity of the scientific work and the one-on-one mentoring relationships as deeply satisfying.”
A student in the 2006 Summer Research Program recently wrote back to her summer research mentor with the following comments: “I really feel that the program at Purchase was a major motivating factor in sparking my interest in research and I really want to encourage other students to take advantage of the opportunity. In fact, I am now considering an MD/PhD Program instead of medical school because I love research so much.”