West Windsor, N.J. – While most students were taking a well-deserved winter break in January, three Mercer County Community College (MCCC) science students decided it was not the time to rest – not when they had the opportunity to participate in honors science research with Genesis Biotechnology Group (GBG), a research consortium based in Hamilton.
Said Biology student Kevin Chacon of Hamilton, “I work seven days a week. I really needed the break, but I learned about these internship opportunities last summer and I just couldn’t turn it down.”
Chacon is extremely glad he made the commitment. “My time at Medical Diagnostics Laboratory (MDL) really opened up my eyes to what working in a lab is like. It confirmed what I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
Chacon’s project, MCR-1, an Emerging Emergency, explored a new gene that is threatening last-resort antibiotics. “It was very cool to be part of the exploration process,” he said, adding that he was able to make significant connections between what he has been learning his science classes and what he learned in the lab. He credits researchers Jill Thompson and Dr. David Hilbert with being wonderful mentors.
Jeremy Cerha of Hamilton, also studying Biology, worked on the STING Pathway Project at Venenum Biodesign under the guidance of researcher Dr. Rachael Siegel. The project focused on a protein that stimulates interferon genes, which in turn have the potential to increase the body’s immune response in the fight against cancer. Cerha recalls that Professor of Chemistry Helen Tanzini told him about the internships opportunity and encouraged him to apply.
“Two weeks doesn’t sound like much time, but I learned a lot,” Cerha said. “I was involved in procedures related to the whole experiment, as well as the science behind them.” Cerha will complete his studies at Mercer in May and transfer to chiropractic school.
Samielle Taylor of Trenton worked on an MDL project entitled Janus NGS Express Panel Validation with researchers Dr. Ani Qu and Megan Cohalan. “MDL is developing genetic tests that may be ready to move from research to the clinical development stage soon. In the time I was there, we added to the pieces of the puzzle,” Taylor said. “This experience gave me a view of the time line of research. It’s very detailed. It’s step by step.”
Taylor adds that she was gratified to apply her academic background in a real world lab. After graduating in May with associate degrees in Chemistry and Biology, she plans to spend an additional year at Mercer in the Medical Laboratory Technology program. With a long-term goal of earning her M.D.-Ph.D., she will work as a medical lab tech to put herself through graduate school.
The Honors Research Program is coordinated by Professors Tanzini and Diane Hilker (Biology). In order to participate, students must have at least a 3.0 GPA in their science classes, be recommended by a science faculty member, and contribute approximately 75 hours on the project. In addition to GBG, the college has partnered with Princeton, Rider and Monmouth universities, the State Police Forensics Lab, the Philadelphia Zoo and The Stony Brook Millstone Watershed.
The professors cite the major benefits that come from these research experiences, including giving students an opportunity to add to the research field in meaningful ways, while supplementing skills that advance their academic goals.
And sometimes, like in the case of Kevin Chacon, they can even help students decide on a life path.