Undergraduate Scientific Research Opportunities Continue to Grow at GBCC Experiences on par with four year programs, attract talented cohort of students

08/20/2015 by Lisa Proulx

PORTSMOUTH – For the past 8 weeks students from Great Bay Community College have been collecting water samples, generating, and analyzing data as part of  undergraduate research work in coastal observation, bioinformatics and biomedical research. Until recently, high- level research opportunities like these have been hard to find  at the community college level. Because of collaborations with organizations like NH INBRE and NH-EPSCoR, Great Bay Community College continues to attract and challenge aspiring STEM students with experiences on par with those offered at four year institutions. 

Since 2010, the Life Sciences department at GBCC has collaborated with the National Science Foundation funded NH-EPSCoR program and the National Institutes of Health funded NH-INBRE program. NH-EPSCoR (N.H. Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) is a statewide infrastructure building program that  focuses  natural resource management. NH-INBRE (N.H. Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) is  focuses on the development of biomedical research strength in New Hampshire. GBCC is the only CCSNH College currently offering research experiences to students through both of these programs.  

According to Leslie Barber, Professor of Biology  at GBCC and  Principal investigator for the INBRE and EPSCoR grants within Community College System of New Hampshire, the trend of more students choosing to begin their college experience at a community college to offset costs has produced a growing cohort of talent poised for high level research. “We are a comprehensive community college and we serve a broad array of students with very diverse goals” explains  Barber. “In recent years, we have seen a growing cohort of talented students who are choosing to begin their college experience with us prior to transfer. Many of these students are interested in the STEM disciplines.  In addition to our core mission of providing them with rigorous, transferrable classroom work, grant programs like NH-INBRE and NH-EPSCoR allow us to introduce this cohort of students to research experiences and connect them to a network of like-minded students and faculty early in their academic careers. We know from experience that the skills and connections offered through these programs are inspirational to our students in a way that enhances their persistence at GBCC, and also provides a powerful bridge to success upon transfer to the university system."

Over the summer, GBCC students Jackie Covino and Joel Jordan have been researching phytoplankton populations inside the Great Bay estuary hoping to predict blooms and changes in those populations.  According to Instructor Linda Coe, Covino also had an opportunity to do field work with UNH professor Alison Watts, (Environmental and Civil Engineering) and Paul Stacey of the National Estuarine Research Reserve. “She discovered that she enjoys doing fieldwork, despite the mud and the heat.” says Coe “Joel, on the other hand enjoys working in the lab, and is really interested in analyzing data we are collecting. When I tell people at UNH what we’re doing they always seem amazed. How can you do this with students who are essentially sophomores.”  Coe credits well established lab protocols and self-directed students like Joel Jordan and Jackie Covino. .  

For Jordan who started at GBCC after pursuing other career tracks, the experience has helped prepare him for eventual transfer to UNH into the Neuroscience program.    For Covino, the research has also helped to validate her career path. “It’s really opened my eyes to how much I enjoy lab and field work” says Covino. “I've met some great people that work in the fields that I may be interested in.  It’s also sparked my interest in marine biology.”

GBCC Students Rachel Main and Randi Gravelle, have been working on research with Deb Audino, co-program coordinator and a Professor of Biotechnology at Great Bay.  Their focus has been is to isolate and characterize a protein associated with oral plaque formation by the bacterium Actinomyces naeslundii. In addition to doing the research supported NH-INBRE , both Rachel and Randi had the opportunity to present their work  at the organization’s annual meeting along with other college students from across the state.  Fifty nine projects andposters where presented with theirs coming in among the top five.  “The meeting gave us a greater confidence in our work and in our school in general.   Being recognized for our work made me see  that we are not any different from bigger four year universities when it comes down to research and knowledge.”  Upon graduating from GBCC,  Main will  transferto UNH Manchester to begin a Bachelor’s degree program in Biotechnology. 

According to Barber, other summer projects  included Bioinformatics research conducted by student Louisa Normington at the Hubbard Genome Center at the University of New Hampshire. Normington, who was supported by a NH-INBRE iSURF fellowship  has a degree in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina, and has been taking Biology and Chemistry courses at GBCC for the past several years. In the fall, she will begin graduate school in plant biology at the University of Alberta.  

Students Jenn Halstead and Shelby Dillman  worked at NERACOOS (the Northern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems) on projects related to coastal observation. Halstead recently completed a degree in Liberal Arts/Environmental Science at GBCC, while Dillman  took a year of classes at GBCC in preparation for transfer. Both students will be attending UNH in the fall, and both were awarded EPSCoR tuition scholarships.

For GBCC, Alumnus Jackie Lemair, the passion for research started at Great Bay has continued.  She  began at the College unsure of ar career path and was soon encouraged by Audino to major in the area of biotechnology and join in on research. Today, she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in genetics at UNH. “I have an advantage over other undergraduates because of my research at Great Bay Community College,”says  Lemaire .  Joel Jordan agrees.“Even on the worst days, what I am doing now is still better than being bored at work or unhappy.Starting this program was not a small decision by any means. It took research and courage. But if you can figure out what you want to do, it can be fantastic.”  Fall classes begin on August 31 at Great Bay.   For more information, contact the Admissions Office at (603) 427-7600 or askgreatbay@ccsnh.edu