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Students Attend NIH Community College Day

TMCC students and faculty at the National Institute of Health’s Community College Day.
Rebecca A. Eckland

While most students were quietly preparing for Thanksgiving break, TMCC students Alex Henrikson, Raquel Ann Moultrie, Abigail Peterson, and Jasmine Kwai along with TMCC Biology Professor Megan Lahti attended the National Institute of Health (NIH) Community College Day. The event, which was held at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland on Nov. 26, was intended to provide community college students and faculty with opportunities to visit the NIH campus while learning about careers and training opportunities in the biomedical and allied health fields.  For several years, TMCC has sent both faculty and students who participate in TMCC’s undergraduate research program to the conference.

The conference featured “career conversations” for over twenty different fields in allied health, including public health, dentistry, genetic counseling, social work, computer science, and biomedical engineering. “The conference is really centered around introducing students to the diverse areas of scientific research, how to prepare yourself to be a viable candidate for medical school and how to build your resume,” said Biology Professor Megan Lahti who accompanied the students to the conference. “It also has a huge networking component with other researchers, scientists, and other affiliates so students can start to build their professional networks.”

The event would host several workshops intended on helping community college students to bridge the gap between their current education level to graduate school and beyond. These workshops offered students advice on writing cover letters and personal statements, developing interviewing skills and stress management.  The conference also included information on how community college students can apply for summer internship opportunities at the NIH Headquarters. “They had information on how students can ask their professors for letters of recommendation, and how to complete the application process,” said Lahti.

Changing Student Perspectives

TMCC Student Jasmine Kwai, who is a Biochemistry major, attended a panel for students interested in pursuing a career in the medical field. “I want to become a Physician’s Assistant, and there was a Physician’s Assistant on the panel. She explained what classes to take and what clinical experience I will need in order to be successful.” Having a professional relate her experience to Kwai gave her a clearer picture of the academic and professional challenges ahead of her. 

Kwai completed a summer research project last summer and has just completed a research-based independent study. “I’ve learned more in a month and a half conducting research than I have in a biology class,” she said. “When I’m doing research, I’m learning techniques and ideas that I can apply and that are relevant to what I’m doing. It’s not just about memorizing terms in a textbook.”  

Kwai’s independent study involved studying bacteriophages, an on-going subject of undergraduate research at TMCC. “Students collected bacteriophage specimens from the area, and we have been testing them for infectivity. Specifically, we’re trying to see how much infectivity is lost over time. It’s not a uniform amount between specimens, and no one knows why.”  

Kwai’s plan is to transfer to UNR next semester to begin working on her final two years of her bachelor’s degree. Going to NIH Headquarters was an eye-opening experience. “[At the conference], we were surrounded by people who are interested in what you’re interested in. It was a really motivating experience for me.”

NIH Headquarters itself was a part of the experience. Kwai had never been to the east coast before, and when she told other conference attendees that she was from Nevada, they were impressed with how far she and the other TMCC students traveled to participate.  

For more information about opportunities in undergraduate research, contact TMCC’s Biology Department at 775-673-8251.