West Windsor, N.J. – Alumna Barri Deptula ’16 (A.S., Biology, A.S., Chemistry) made a sound financial decision when she decided to attend Mercer County Community College (MCCC) as part of the NJ Stars program, which provides free tuition for students in the top 15 percent of their class.
Now, as a graduate student and immunology lab technician at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Deptula says, “Looking back at every step I’ve taken toward doing what I love, it all starts with Mercer.”
Directly after graduating from Steinert High School in 2014, Deptula headed straight to MCCC. “Mercer was affordable and very close to home,” she said. “And, I knew the school is rated as one of the best community colleges.”
Deptula made the most of every opportunity that came her way – through hard work, perseverance, and a passion for science. While working multiple part-time jobs, she pursued Mercer’s rigorous biology and chemistry curriculum and completed an honors microbiology research internship at Princeton University’s (PU) Hoyt Laboratory with Dr. Mark Brynildsen.
MCCC’s Honors Science Research Program was just one of Deptula’s glowing recollections of the opportunities she had at Mercer. “I met so many amazing professors who impacted my education and my life overall."
Deptula says she was instilled with a love for learning. "I really valued all of my science courses because of how well they were taught and how much I learned." She includes many names on her list of favorites: Diane Hilker (Biology), who encouraged her to apply for the Princeton internship, Dr. Laura Blinderman (Biology), Helen Tanzini (Chemistry), Dr. Ronald Smith (Biology), and Patrick Natale (Biology), among others.
Deptula notes that her Mercer professors also taught her life skills. “I’ve learned to time manage, be confident, and work hard. I apply these qualities to everything I do,” she said.
According to Deptula, time management was the key to conquering her challenging schedule, which usually included multiple science courses in a single semester. “I found that as long as I worked hard and stayed on top of due dates, school wasn’t so hard,” she recalled.
She learned this most emphatically in her Organic Chemistry class, where she bonded with fellow students through the Organic Chemistry Club.
“Some of my favorite memories were in that class. ‘Orgo’ is very intimidating, so to say that was one of my favorite experiences shocks me sometimes,” she observed.
Deptula also participated in Mercer’s chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and helped other science students as a tutor. Occasionally, she even had time for a Zumba class in the gym during her lunch break.
“I enjoyed Mercer even more because I was involved,” she said.
Deptula enrolled at Mercer through the dual-admissions program with Rider University, so she knew right from the start where she was going and what she needed to do to get there. “Going directly to Rider was an easy transition and I really benefited from meeting with my transfer counselor. This set me up perfectly to continue my education,” Deptula explained.
Primed for the research environment, Deptula continued her lab work at Rider, assisting Dr. James Riggs. “At Rider, I was looking at the mice model for ovarian cancer, which expanded my research to immunology. I was able to be involved at Rider due to Dr. Blinderman introducing me to Dr. Riggs’s lab,” Deptula said.
After graduating from Rider in 2018 with her bachelor’s degree in Biology, Deptula decided to stay on the academic track. As a current grad student and lab technician at Jefferson, she continues to add to the knowledge base and skill set she began developing at Mercer.
“Through the years in different labs, I have learned so many different techniques and skills that are benefitting me now and will continue to do so in the future,” she said.
Deptula is enormously appreciative for her MCCC experience. “I believe I have a better foundation than many of my classmates because of Mercer, including more research experience and lab-based positions.”
She also points to the scholarships she received at Mercer that left her with minimal college debt. “The S-STEM scholarship helped me in particular, along with other scholarships that professors alerted us to. They added up and made it easier for me to continue my education.”
As she considers her future, Deptula believes that she is well equipped for career advancement. “My background has opened doors. I will be able to apply for jobs at a higher level once I finish my master’s degree."
Deptula advises current MCCC students to manage their time well. “School is so much more fun when you are prepared for due dates and have some down time because you finished your assignments. I had far less stress and could enjoy what I was learning. School is all about balance. You have to work hard and want to be successful, but you also need to enjoy yourself,” she advises.