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Two-Week Internship Is Potential Game-Changer for Three MCCC Science Students


West Windsor, N.J. – What do most college students do over winter break?  They see friends, get some well-deserved rest, and, if employed, maybe add extra hours to their work schedules.  For Amanda Hamilton, Nomaan Khan, and Mark Setaro, three high-achieving science students at Mercer County Community College (MCCC), two weeks in January added up to a potentially life-changing experience.

Setaro, of Robbinsville, Hamilton of Hamilton, and Khan, of East Windsor, were selected to participate in a two-week internship with Medical Diagnostics Laboratory (MDL), a subsidiary of Genesis Biotechnology Group in Hamilton.  All three completed complex, painstaking tasks as part of research projects currently underway at MDL.

On Feb. 20, the three shared the bulk of their clinical findings – and a snippet of their feelings about their internship experiences – during a presentation before a packed auditorium on MCCC’s West Windsor campus.

From left, Dr. Eun-Woo Chang, Vice President for Academic Affairs; Linda Scherr, Dean for Math, Science and Health Professions, Professor of Biology Diane Hilker, students Nomaan Khan, Amanda Hamilton and Mark Setaro, and MDL staff members Dr. Robert Swanson, Dr. David Hilbert, Charronne Davis and Utsav Patel. (Not pictured: Professor of Chemistry Helen Tanzini.

The students recalled MDL as an intense research environment, where they got up to speed fast by attending meetings with the research team.  They did a lot of background reading and spent several days shadowing their research mentors.

And then they got to work.

Khan’s project, “Nucleic Acid Extraction Protocol Development for Molecular Pap in Cervical Cancer Diagnostics,” was completed under the guidance of Dr. Lisa Huang.  “I did numerous runs and collected lots of data.  The most challenging part was the short timeframe of the internship.  I learned and accomplished a lot in a small amount of time,” Khan said.

Hamilton, who worked under the guidance of Dr. Robert Swanson on a project entitled “Comparison of Discordant Clinical Samples with Real-Time PCR,” quickly appreciated the need for extreme accuracy. “It’s critically important to be precise. For two days in a row the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) I was working on did nothing.  You have to make sure you are doing everything completely correctly to be sure of your results,” she said.

Setaro, under the guidance of Dr. David Hilbert, investigated “E. coli Susceptibility to Beta-Lactam Antibiotics.”  He considers the internship to be a wake-up call. “It was an amazing opportunity for real world experience.  As much as you learn in the classroom and in a college lab setting, it’s a whole different level in a working lab,” he said.

For all three students, MCCC is the first step in a larger plan.  Khan is powering his way through Mercer.  By the end of his first year in May, he will have completed more than 60 credits, the course load usually achieved in two full years at college, by having taken classes while still in high school and enrolling in summer and winter sessions.  He has sent out transfer applications to prestigious colleges to continue towards his bachelor’s degree and is considering an eventual career in medicine.

Setaro, who will earn his A.S. in Biology in May and also transfer to complete his bachelor’s degree, is grateful for the internship experience.  “I don’t know of another community college that has opportunities like Mercer,” he said, noting that students receive regular emails from Professors Diane Hilker (Biology) and Helen Tanzini (Chemistry) about internship programs in the area.

And Hamilton, who will complete dual associate degrees in Biology and Chemistry in May and transfer to a four-year college, ranks the internship as the most important activity she has pursued as an MCCC student. “This is a serious hands-on experience. I hope to take advantage of more internship opportunities in the future,” she said, adding that a resume that includes internships is far more appealing to employers. 

Among those in the crowded auditorium was Hamilton’s extended family, some eight members strong, which couldn’t be more proud of what she is accomplishing at MCCC.

Now in its third year, GBG/MDL has provided internships for nine MCCC science students, one of whom had returned to Mercer after already receiving his bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and was subsequently hired by the company.

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