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Two Grads Return to Mercer to Present Honors Science Research Projects; Alumna Says Internship Proved Major Asset


West Windsor, N.J. – Mercer County Community College (MCCC) science students continue to represent the college with distinction in the world of clinical research. Two students, Fabiola Pincay and Utsav Patel, both of whom are moving on in college and careers, returned to the West Windsor campus in October to present the Honors Research projects they completed over the summer.

MCCC Professors Helen Tanzini (Chemistry) and Diane Hilker (Biology) invited the college community and the researchers who worked with the students to attend the presentations, which focused on highly specialized areas of biology and chemistry.

Pincay, a May graduate who earned associate degrees in Biology and Chemistry, completed work on “Iron Limitation Effects on Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Persister Formation” under the guidance of Dr. Mark Brynildsen at Princeton University. The research investigated how iron influences the growth of the bacteria Pseudomonas. Pincay is now in her first semester as a transfer student at Rutgers University, where she is majoring in Biochemistry.

Patel worked on “Extraction and PCR Techniques Required for Cancer Biomarker Research” under the guidance of Dr. Thuy Do of Medical Diagnostics Laboratory (MDL), a subsidiary of Genesis Biotechnology Group (GBG) in Hamilton. The project involved the use of various methods to extract specific DNA sequences that indicate a predisposition for cervical cancer. Patel, who graduated from Mercer in 2009 and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, returned to MCCC to gain an even stronger foundation in the lab.  MDL was so impressed with his clinical skills that he was offered a full-time job there.  (Six other students have previously completed internships at GBG.)

From left, MCCC Biology Professor Diane Hilker, Dr. Mark Brynildsen of Princeton University, students Fabiola Pincay and Utsav Patel, MDL's Dr. Thuy Do, GBG's Dr. Martin Adelson and MCCC Chemistry Professor Helen Tanzini.
Alumna Nicole Sullivan, second from left, says the research skills she learned at GBG proved a major asset when she transferred to Rowan. Also pictured are, from left, researcher Jamie Francisco, MCCC students Yulia Tsebriy and Fabiola Pincay and researcher Amy Werda.

“It was wonderful to share our pride in these students with faculty, staff and other students," Tanzini said. "The two students were very excited to have this opportunity to explain their novel and complex projects.  We know how hard they worked."

Alumna Nicole Sullivan’13 (A.S., Biology) was one of the first students to complete a GBG internship. Currently in her senior year at Rowan University, she is planning to continue for a graduate degree as a physician assistant.
In a recent email to MCCC Biology Professor Diane Hilker, Sullivan expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to pursue the GBG internship.  “The research I did has impacted me greatly," she wrote. "I was able to apply the skills I learned during my internship to my genetics class with Professor Laura Blinderman at Mercer and later at Rowan.  As a transfer student, I was able to shine in my very first biology class at Rowan. I could talk in depth with my Rowan professor about genetics and microbiology research and had the knowledge and lab techniques that put me far ahead of my classmates.”

Sullivan praised Professor Hilker and her colleagues for coordinating the Honors Research Program and supporting and mentoring science students. “From talking to other transfer students, it is clear that they did not have the opportunity to do research.  You would be surprised at how many students do not know the correct way to use a micro-pipette or make sure they are using sterile techniques,” Sullivan said.

Tanzini notes that Mercer’s Honors Science Research Program, which began in 1999, has been highly successful in providing specialized research opportunities for Mercer’s most motivated and curious science students. The advanced level program most recently added physics research. Projects are coordinated through Biology, Chemistry and Physics faculty members. To participate, students must have at least a 3.0 GPA in their science classes, be recommended by an MCCC professor, and devote a minimum of six hours per week at the research facility.

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