Students share their experiences

The Flying with Swallows (FWS) project at Moreno Valley College (MVC) has made a huge impact in the lives of numerous students, inspired a new entries into this generation of STEM scholars, and opened up a world of scientific education and discovery to bright young scholars.

A collection of testimonials and written experiences from FWS biology and chemistry student participants can be found below.

As I write my independent neuroscience research proposal for my undergraduate research at the University of California Los Angeles, a stream of memories gushes through my mind reminding me of the experiences that have paved the way for where I am today, and the most prominent experience is the research experience at Moreno Valley College under Dr. Joanna Werner-Fraczek.

Going into my Bio-11 honors class, I didn't know what to expect. Many of the classes I had taken up to this point, only introduced current scientific research, but never gave me the chance to practice it. However, Bio-11H was different. The day Dr. Joanna informed me that I would be tracking and working with RNA interference in C. elegans all the information in the textbooks I had been learning suddenly began to come alive. The class was the first of its kind to give me a chance to practice current research methods under the guidance of Dr. Joanna, and the thought of one day conducting my own research suddenly became plausible. Moreover, I went out of my way to make sure my next biology class Bio-12 was taught under Dr. Joanna and worked my whole schedule around it. In The lab portion of the class, we participated with camera trapping, and worked with Dr. Joanna in collecting raw data for the Flying With Swallows (FWS) project. I looked forward to that class every week, and would constantly brag to family and friends about the work we were doing in the lab. Furthermore, Dr. Joanna encouraged me to present my own research proposal at the Honors Transfer Council of California (HTCC) annual student research conference.

Going into UCLA as a transfer student, you are at a disadvantage. UCLA is a highly competitive environment, and many research positions require experience and fill up quick. Many of my fellow transfer students struggled to get into research positions as 3rd years because they did not have prior experience at their community colleges. On the other hand, I was accepted into my first UCLA research position as a Research Assistant in a lab that studies Drosophila hematopoiesis utilizing RNA interference. I believe that having the research experience at the Moreno Valley College made me stand out and helped me obtain the position from among continuing UCLA students and new UCLA transfers. I am currently In a clinical neuropsychiatric lab that studies Autism language regression, and will be conducting my own independent research in the upcoming fall.

UCLA is one of the best research universities in the nation. However, most of the research positions at UCLA barely give students the chance to interact with the Primary Investigator (PI) one on one, and that's what made the research at MVC unique. Having Dr. Joanna as our Primary Investigator always present, guiding us through the process and open to any questions we had, was a unique experience that other students envy me for. Working in a collaborative environment with other fellow students along with Dr. Joanna and finally going on to present at the HTCC annual student research conference is an experience I am forever grateful for and will cherish throughout the rest of my career. As I prepare to embark on my own independent research, I know I am capable of not only publishing and presenting my own work, but exceling at it too.

I took Dr. Joanna's Bio 12, and 34 classes, along with being a SI for her Bio 12 class. During that time I was introduced to the NSF research projects. While I had my set career planned out (Physician Assistant), I thoroughly enjoyed the research exposure that I would have not gotten elsewhere. I took Bio 11 at a different district, and they did not have any type of research project. It definitely peaked my interest into research and careers that are research based. Had I been early into my college career/unsure about my path in life, Dr. Joanna's research projects would have helped tremendously in pointing me in another direction. Participating in the project also gave me a sense of belonging not only within the college, but the community as we were doing research that was significant to the area.

I feel that what I did learn during the NSF research process, can be used in bettering my chosen career path of becoming a PA as one needs the ability to critically think and investigate efficiently to provide optimal care to patients. The research helped me in other classes, because I was able to apply the learning strategies involved with it to them. The biggest one being critical thinking. Taking pieces of information, and figuring out how they fit into the grand scheme of things.

The projects I was involved with were camera trapping, and setting up sticky paper to collect insects near the nesting sites of swallows. I found these to be interesting, and quite enjoyable. They made my time at MVC exciting, and made me realize that there were other career paths out there that I would enjoy, should I not get into a PA school. I do not yet know how my time spent with the project will impact my learning during PA school as it has not started yet, but I am optimistic that it will give me an edge during the stressful and hectic didactic year. I am actually sad to hear that the NSF is ending, and hope that another type of research project is in the works, as it made the Bio classes fun, interesting, captivating, and made you want to keep going to them.

My name is Douglas Ralston and I have completed Bio-11 and Bio-12 (Spring 18') with Dr. Joanna at Moreno Valley College. I plan on transferring to a UC in the Spring of 19 for Biochemistry. When I am away from school during the week, I volunteer, and I am part of the leadership team for a Hospital in Riverside. It is my dream to go Medical School as well as conducting research related to the biological/medical field.

First off, Dr. Joanna is an amazing professor. Her experience in teaching and knowledge of the subjects intertwine seamlessly which makes the class challenging and fun at the same time. I am not the only student who would share this opinion. My home campus is Norco College but when I heard of a research-educational based class, I jumped at this opportunity. My commute to the Moreno Valley Campus averaged two hours back and forth from my house.

The FWS project was a valuable and rewarding research experience. My wish is for the students that follow to experience this project. The project was able to relate my textbook material into life applications that otherwise, I would not have had the opportunity to experience. Through various steps in the research-based project we learned about DNA Barcoding, PCR Amplification, Data and Observations, Camera Trappings, RNA interferences, ArcGIS mapping and so much more. The FWS research project as well as Dr. Joanna, have motivated me to pursue future educational plans in the biological/medical field.

I have gained an immense amount of confidence and proudness through the FWS research project. At the University level, research is very common as well as the sheer number of applicants applying to a research team. I will be a transfer student, but not just any transfer student. I will be a transfer student from Moreno Valley College, home of the FWS research project. The research that we learned and applied will help strengthen my application and open up future learning/research opportunities.

A core element of my Bio-12 class was Data and Observation around the Moreno Valley Campus. As I was collecting Data and Observations, I was frequently approached by other students whom in the end were very excited and interested in future participation with the FWS project. The FWS research project has inspired and strengthened my aspirations and I know the same will follow for the future students of Moreno Valley College.

My name is Ryan Sobh, I am a transfer student from the Moreno Valley College school system currently in the process of attendance to the University of California - Riverside, to pursue two bachelor degrees in Biological Sciences and Business Administration. From my time at Moreno Valley college I was able to acquire three associates degrees, collect research experience, and find an occupation working with the Norco College career center. Throughout my two years in the community college system the one experience that stands out to me the most, without a doubt, is the Flying with Swallows research project. Being as I have no intention of being an ornithologist or have had much of any interest in birds in general, you may be surprised to hear that the time I spent with this project has changed my career path and overall outlook on life as a discipline.

I have spent a full Biology sequence (this includes Bio-11 and Bio-12) under the instruction of Dr. Joanna Werner-Fraczek in which she walked us through the Flying with Swallows research based learning project centered around the Petrochelidon, or more commonly known as the Cliff Swallow. We conducted multiple documentations and experimentations involving these birds ranging from barcoding DNA in order to discover their diet, to observing lifestyles and mannerisms of newly formed swallow nests with parent and newborn birds. Seeing as I did not have any interest in birds I initially did not think it would be as enjoyable of an experience as it turned out to be. This project would not be best fit for just any teacher to instruct in my opinion, if it were not for Dr. Joanna my interest for this project would not be at such an involved and heightened level as it is to this day. Her passion and vigor for Biology has swayed me to give birds a try and to delve into their world for a different perspective. I can tell you with confidence and I will illicit the same testimony at any point in time, that I have not enjoyed school this much since elementary school recess. This project exchanged the repetition of tested "experimentation" and dull instruction for true out of the classroom, hands on experience where the answer would not always be found online. This element of conducting a true research on a live species gave a component of learning that most every class lacks in terms of a heightened education. It was not your traditional method of linear education, it involved you in the research and gave responsibility to every student, it provided students with the feeling of individuality that no other class has ever provided to me in my experience. The feeling of conducting real research to obtain real data was a responsibility we all had. At the end of the research you felt as if you have contributed to the scientific community instead of just going through the same old labs to learn theory instead of apply it to real world questions. It provided room for cooperation and collaboration between fellow classmates and researchers who were not even taking the class. The project broadened horizons for every student, it opened doors for new paths, new experiences, and new ideas, it was the eye opener of our community college experience.

Now I will not lie to you and tell you that it has persuaded me to become a research scientist to study birds for the rest of my life, but I will tell you the rather unique effect it has had on my career choice. This project allowed me to find myself and try a research project without it hindering my progress as a student if I did not necessarily like it. I found that lab work was not much of an interest to me as I thought it would be, and I am forever grateful that I was involved in a research experience before I continued down this route. However, what this project has done for me was make me realize the multiple problems that stand in the way of the ecosystems and organisms around us and make a difference that way. This project gave me the confidence to learn more of the biological world and then translate it into the world of politics and government in order to supplement the learning and preservation of our scientific future as a species. Observing these birds to see how man made interferences coincide with the biodiversity of the world we live in was a rather depressing sight. Plastic, trash, pollutants, etcetera, were all I could think of when observing and researching these swallows and it has really given me the confidence and strength to make a change on a different front. The fact that such a great research opportunity can have the effect of reaching a different subject of learning such as government or politics really stands out to me as one of the greatest crafted research based learning projects to date. It is with the utmost sincerity that I request for this research project to live on and be supplemented to its fullest potential as to generate more and more awareness for our environment and planet as a whole, not only within the scientific community, but beyond it.

I was a student in Dr. Joanna's Biology 12 course during the spring of 2018 at Moreno Valley College. After completing the course, I have moved on to take my final prerequisite class for medical school, biochemistry, at the University of California, Riverside. I am also currently involved in clinical research with Loma Linda Anesthesiology and School of Medicine, along with working part time as a medical scribe in their emergency department and behavioral medical center.

Completing the "Flying with Swallows" research assignment served as a portion of my grade in Biology 12. However, the experience I gained from this project served to be more than just a necessary element of my grade. While this project was not my first involvement in research, it did serve to be the first of its kind in that I was definitely overall more independent than I have been expected to be in my other research fields. For example, while I am usually under observation and strict procedure in my clinical research discipline, Dr. Joanna expected and assessed me based on my own ability to come up with a procedure/experiment entirely of my own doing. This allowed me to truly gauge my own interests and explore my own curiosities in regards to the swallows and their behavior, which in turn helped me maintain the motivation to complete the project throughout the semester.

Overall, my involvement in this research experience allowed me to sharpen my confidence in my independent abilities as a researcher. While I grasped the direct goal of this project – to learn more about swallows – I also gained skills that can be applied lifelong, such as the ability to think critically and write a thoughtful research proposal, which will undoubtedly be required as I continue to strive for higher education. I also learned how crucial it is to be organized in research in order to be able to obtain the data you need in a timely fashion.

This research experience was fun, new, and interesting to me, and I truly respect the trust that Dr. Joanna placed in each of us as she allowed us to coordinate a significant portion of the project. I am confident that this experience will serve to be a learning platform for students in the future, and can even help a student determine if s/he would like to pursue a career in research. I never imagined finding a genuine interest in research, and started off in clinical research simply because it is almost mandated to portray one as a competitive candidate in the medical field. Yet, through the Flying with Swallows project and learning to conduct research on my own terms while adhering to the empirical policies, I have realized that research may be on the horizon for me in the near future.

I enjoyed the research exposure because without it, I would probably not even consider a career in biology and data. By developing our own project design and proposal, I began to think like a researcher, and after the research I realized I love that mode of thinking. Before this biology course and research opportunity, I felt as if biology is a subject that requires pure memorization and nothing else. However, after understanding how the material we learned in class directly connects to all the research questions we came up with, it was clear to me that I was wrong.

I believe the best learning experience I had was reshaping my research question several times. Not only does this process change the way you approach a topic but it also proves that you are on the right path. For example, I was interested in finding a certain protein in the Cliff Swallows, and after literature review, I learned that this kind of research has already been done and that the protein is absent in birds. Discovering this information helped me gain confidence in research because it proves that researchers were thinking the same way I was thinking when developing this initial question regardless of how long ago it was found.

Overall, I am so thankful to have received the research exposure because it has made me realize what I want to do as a career and the kind of research opportunities I hope to engage in.

Dear Dr. Joanna Werner-Fraczek,

To begin with, I would like to extend the great happiness of your message, and there is no greater joy for me than to share the great experience I had with your research-based lectures and laboratories. After having graduated this past June from the community college, I am currently working on getting everything ready to transfer to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Secondly, I would like to start by emphasizing that I enjoyed the research exposure to the point of reconsidering career paths. Yes, as most of the Biology students, my goal was to become a physician; however, I now look further than medical school. I am quite interested in research now thanks to you, Dr. Joanna and the grant you made possible for Moreno Valley College to be awarded from the National Science Foundation (NSF); I am now extremely interested in understanding cancer and stem cells. Furthermore, not only did I enjoyed working on real animals such as fruit flies to study genetics and on the field, I was also extremely motivated by the fact that I was doing what I called "real research". As a first-generation college student who had never been involved in research, I found it fascinating; it really was great experience being able to learn to use PCR machines in DNA amplification while studying swallows and insects.

Now that I have shared my experiences, I would like to highlight all the positive impacts of this research project. Firstly, I can assure that one of the reasons why I was accepted to UCLA is because I shared my research exposure in my personal statement. I shared what I am sharing with [you] right now; the joy of working in the laboratory! Also, I would like share that after this research experience, my confidence in the lab had a great growth. I feel I was able to be more independent, independent not only in the lab, but also in the ability to offer research proposals and discuss the lecture material with others. I am also proud to share that because of this amazing experience, I have also applied to the UCLA's Biomedical Research Program to be able to get a minor and more experience in the field of Biomedical Sciences; it was that great the amount of confidence I was able to get through the FWS Research Project. To conclude, I would like to thank Dr. Joanna and the NSF for the Flying with the Swallows Research Project. This was a life changing experience that I would love for others to feel and experience, especially in the Moreno Valley College area as it is indeed an underserved area. Please have in mind that most of us, the beneficiaries of this project, we come from low-income families and by having the privilege of being able to participate in this project, it is just something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

First and foremost, a direct benefit of research starts in the classroom. By engaging in research firsthand, I find it easier to understand the rationale underlying others' research. For example, only after forming one's own hypotheses does one truly understand the nuances of research designs and better conceptualize course material. A significant number of students at community college are overwhelmed by the academic process and do not even know that research is an option for them, let alone how to get involved. This is a tremendous opportunity that is offered to Riverside City College District by Dr. Joanna Werner-Fraczek which helps students open the doors to a research experience. Many students get involved in research after they transfer which only gives then one or one and half years of research experience. Having Dr. Joanna Werner-Fraczek as a professor for Cell and Molecular Biology and Organismal Population opened door for many NSF funded research. This summer, I took a Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM) by C-DEBI which is funded by NSF. This project broadened my knowledge in STEM and made me realize how much I love research.

Well, after taking Dr. Joanna's class, I was exposed to the real research and doing labs that did not have results according to theoretical knowledge. We were performing research that had undecided results and just based on hypothesis. This experience helped me get GEM course which is funded by NSF. This summer I worked with two of the USC professor at the USC Wrigley Institute of Environmental Studies on Catalina Island. I met Karla Heidelberg which is the head of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at USC and she was impressed with the knowledge I gained from Dr. Joanna's lab. She was shocked because not even the university students experience this independent lab experience until their junior or senior year. Dr. Joanna's research and lab experience really helped me shape my career and now I'm stepping on for some new experience.

After experiencing Dr. Joanna's lab, I feel confident and independent because of my participation and ownership in the project. This project gave me the knowledge about research in biology and the ecosystem but also gave me a sense of belonging. The project gave me an opportunity to experience my career by collaborating with graduate students and discuss some advanced ideas with them. Dr. Joanna's research lab was a great experience for me to enter the clinical and research field for Biomedical Engineering at University of Southern California.

I would say I enjoyed the research when I actually knew what I was doing. At first, proposing a research was a new concept to me, it sounded very boring, and I didn't feel that I had the creativity that this task requires. But step by step, I started to understand what was going on and found a topic that interested me. Then I started researching the ways to do the experiment. I got excited of how far I have come and, therefore, enjoyed doing it! I was surprised that I completed it as well. I know it's too early for me, academically, to say this, but I just felt that I belonged in that field.

The research proposal was how I found my major. It sounds crazy to me because from an early age, I have never liked biology. Trust me, I moved a lot in my life and went to many different schools and NEVER liked biology. In fact, I chose to major in engineering because of my big interest in math and physics, and (of course) knowing that I don't have to continue in taking biology courses! However, after I finished the proposal, I fell in love with the research concept, the creativity behind it, and the biology of course! That made me reshape my major in a way that will add more biology to my career without forgetting my interest in the other courses. That is how I chose Bioengineering. A major that is filled with research opportunities and actual experiments.

The research experience helped me get to where I am now by showing me that knowledge is key to creativity. Meaning that it taught me that the more I know, the better I am in creating something. I really believe that this type of experience can help them gain more knowledge than they will ever gain in the normal course work. I personally feel much more confident that I can do things on my own, and maybe one day lead my own research. I believe that is what my classmates thought as well. We were all in the same boat together and had many discussions to how we could go about the research. I've talked to people in the class that I have never really spoken to during the course because of the research. We somehow connected and collaborated with each other and that showed us the importance of communication, especially in the science field.

As of right now, I am sitting in Bekes county in Hungary, as a participant in an international research project. The project, called the Bronze Age Koros Off-Tell Archaeological project (BAKOTA), studies a middle/late Bronze Age cemetery in southeastern Hungary to explore the transition from egalitarian societies to more socially stratified societies by looking into the mortuary treatment of human remains and how this might give insight into the mobility of Bronze Age people in Eastern Europe, and the possible movement of ideologies and trades that would have ushered in socio-economic differences among different groups of people. This interdisciplinary project has brought in people with an incredible diversity in backgrounds and expertise to accomplish its task and also allow students from both the United States and Europe to participate and accumulate research experience by heading their own projects. My personal project currently involves travelling to different regions of Hungary to develop an isoscape of plant samples to compare against isotope samples of human remains to attempt to track the mobility of people within the Hungarian regions of the Carpathian Basin and Transdanubia. I am extremely confident that I would not hold this privilege and opportunity had it not been for the research experience I was exposed to in the Flying with Swallows Project in Moreno Valley College.

The research exposure was an incredible enjoyable and practical experience. In my understanding of STEM careers, the success of any academic is their ability to contribute to the growing body of understanding gathered by their colleagues, and while the laboratory procedures of my previous science classes were useful in understanding concepts discussed in the course's curriculum, they were not very useful in understanding what the process of contributing to academia is like. Working with applied research techniques, even the tediousness of carrying out precise research, was an incredibly informative and enjoyable experience.

Even now in my work with BAKOTA, I see the impact the FWS project has on the quality of my work. I feel more competent and more confident in my independent undertaking of different tasks, and had it not been for the work done with FWS, I feel like my presence here would be lacking the same level of quality that I can produce now. I still have much to learn, and I believe that BAKOTA can offer more tutelage in this matter, but I definitely feel that FWS has made an impact in my overall ability to be a member of a research team.

The fact that FWS let me take a significant handle on the project has made me feel more confident in producing my own independent work, and this has let me communicate with my mentor here on BAKOTA in a more efficient way, and can anticipate the next steps in my own project.

Overall, I believe the experience I was privileged to partake in with FWS has let me become a more competent researcher and a more balanced member of STEM communities; able to practically and efficiently contribute to other types of research projects. Let alone the fact that I have been able to contribute to and produce scientific literature has broadened the horizons of my career in STEM. Without a doubt, FWS has been an incredibly positive experience to partake in.

Some information about my current academic status. I am attending University of California San Diego as a Bioengineering: Biotechnology undergraduate student. This is my second-transfer year or my "fourth" year more simply put. I am currently working in a research lab that focuses on Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine under Dr. Karen Christman. I've been working in the lab since approximately April 1st and recently got accepted into the UC LEADS and STARS programs. As a result of getting into the programs, I work alongside a 4th year Bioengineering PhD student who is helping me conduct my own research. At the end August, I will be presenting my work in a research conference. Furthermore, I am part of two clubs on campus: BioMedical Engineering Society and The Transfer Engineering Academic Mentorship (TEAM) program.

I absolutely enjoyed the research exposure. My parents did not pursue academics in their life so my first real exposure to research was here with the Flying With Swallows projects. Since I didn't have that background knowledge of research, I thought of it differently. I originally thought of research as something that was only critical, cold, and calculated. Through this experience, I realized that research is more than the calculations and the experiments, it's something vibrant, and it's a process of discovery. It's being at the forefront of exploration and it's something absolutely thrilling and motivating. Overall, my initial research exposure has helped create that thirst of searching, asking questions, and clearing the previous misconceptions that I had about research.

The FWS projects gave me both a greater interest in STEM and shaped my future career. Before the projects, my main goal was to work in industry. This derived mostly due to my lack of knowledge of the academic and research fields. After spending time researching, I found myself enjoying it more than anticipated. So much so that I am currently conducting research at the University of California San Diego, and I am planning on attend graduate school. My currently goal is to one day become a Principle Investigator and possibly conduct leading research that helps better humanity.

First, the practical reasons why the FWS projects helped me get to where I am is two-fold. Many transfer students do not have the opportunity to do research before they transfer. Consequently, many of those transfer students are unable to get into research labs as an upper division student with typically two to three years left at the University. The FWS project allowed me to show research labs that I had research experience. This seemingly trivial idea may have been a huge factor in why these labs chose me.

Lastly, the research experience helped me get to where I am now by creating a problem-solving mindset. Many classes teach students how to problem solve, but oddly sometimes the problem-solving skill doesn't translate well into a practical application. At the University, I've met countless students who want to get into labs but are not sure how or where to start. Many of them end up never doing any labs. As a transfer student in a new school, the FWS projects gave me the skills which propelled me into asking the right questions, seeking answers, and executing a plan to get results. Within three to six months, I was in a research lab.

The biggest learning lessons from my research experience that's currently helping me is mainly through my earlier failures. I learned the importance of documenting and recording which was a struggle. I have a better insight on what key information should be recorded to have good documentation practices. Furthermore, many skills I learned from my FWS projects like pipetting, making solutions and dilutions, and performing gel electrophoresis have helped tremendously.

I do feel more confident and independent because of the project. I learned that it's okay if a researcher doesn't know a certain concept or how to do a certain protocol. It's about figuring out what you don't know and having the humility to ask others where to find the answers. Additionally, It's also a process of gaining a deeper understanding through trial and error, making mistakes and making strides.

The project did give me a sense of belonging and an opportunity to collaborate with others. I was able to connect with other students in the STEM fields in my community college, and other community colleges nationwide. It was also a unique chance to see the research being performed at the other schools. This motivated and encouraged me to see that no research project is too big. Research goes as far as the working hands and the creative minds of the people who are willing to do the work.

I am currently a senior at Cal Poly Pomona in pursuit of a bachelor's degree in biology subplan microbiology and minor in chemistry. When I think back to the courses I took at community college there are only a few that stand out. One of these courses is Bio-12 with Dr. Joanna. Her class was structured differently than any class I had ever taken. Yes we had lectures, quizzes and exams but we also had the opportunity to participate in different projects/assignments that allowed us to put into practice what we learned in the classroom.

For example, the camera trapping assignment was an ongoing project started by Dr. Joanna's previous classes and its purpose was to capture and map the local fauna on the Moreno Valley College campus. After setting up the cameras around the campus and downloading the photographs onto a computer, my group and I went through thousands of photos, which was time consuming, but also rewarding because some of the images were breathtaking. My group and I did encounter problems but this allowed us to problem solve and experiment with possible solutions. After going through the photos, we used ArcGIS to map the local fauna on the Moreno Valley Campus.

I also participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) Community Colleges Initiative Conference held in Tennessee and this was a great opportunity to meet new people and present our work/findings. Although I was nervous partly because this was the first time I had traveled in a plane and also because I had never done a scientific presentation, I really enjoyed the experience and learned so much about the research that is going on in different community colleges around the country. Moreover, these experiences and exposure to real life research made me more confident in my decision to become a biologist.

My name is Fernanda Ambrosio, I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of California Riverside. I am currently entering my last year as an undergraduate student and work under Dr. Hollis Woodard in the Woodard lab. We are one of UCR's many entomology labs, and we focus on studying bumblebees. I was a part of Dr. Joanna’s honors biology class at Moreno Valley College during the spring of 2017. During that time, I had the honor to participate in the Flying with Swallows research. Our class played a role in attempting to identify the diets that cliff swallows led. This was my first experience participating in research, and it was absolutely enlightening. I enjoyed learning about the process that goes into research, and it opened my eyes to possible careers in a variety of research programs offered through UCR. If it had not been for this experience, I would never have discovered a passion for research, and I would probably still be wondering what to do after graduation. I interviewed for the current lab position I’m in with confidence because I had been exposed to research already. Not only did the project help me get to where I am today, it also gave me a sense of belonging amongst the students I worked with. It built long lasting friendships, and it provided me with confidence to interact with the science community.

Programs like these are the reason students like myself are inspired and motivated to pursue degrees in STEM, and can only hope that Dr. Joanna and the staff at MVC can continue to provide more students with projects such as FWS. They really do change lives.

As I was nearing completion of my time at Moreno Valley College, I was uncertain about where my educational goals would take me. At the time, I was enrolled in Biology 12, instructed by Dr. Joanna Werner-Fraczek. She encouraged me to participate in the Flying with Swallows (FWS) project. I had always had an interest in wildlife and science so I jumped at the opportunity. My participation sharpened my focus and ultimately drove me to pursue a career in scientific research.

My participation in the FWS project helped me enter a research laboratory as an undergraduate transfer student where I was able to use and further develop the skills and techniques I had practiced. Now, a few years later, I am pursuing a Ph.D. as a graduate student of evolutionary biology and genomics at University of California Riverside. The skills I learned include scientific research in the field and in the laboratory and computational data analysis. Additionally, I presented at my first scientific conference as one of Dr. Werner-Fraczek's students - since then, I have presented at least one meeting every year.

I strongly believe that FWS is an invaluable opportunity for students interested in scientific careers. It is a fun and exciting way for students to gain experience and confidence by doing real scientific research early on and it is a novel way of bridging the gap between community college and research universities. FWS showed me that research is a viable career and that it provides unique opportunities to collaborate with others that are passionate about their work, to travel, and to work in a field that appeals to my genuine interests. Without my experience as a collaborator of the FWS project, I may not have known how rewarding a career in science can be.

My name is Hector Lopez. I graduated from the University of California, Irvine in June 2018 with a B.S. in Biological Sciences. I currently work as a lab technician at Norco College and am applying for medical school.

During my time as an undergraduate, I gained the most enjoyment from my community college experience. This is the case not only because of the small number of students per class and lack of curves to fight against but because of the amazing opportunities that I was able to take advantage of during those 3 years. One of those opportunities was given to me by Dr. Joanna, in which I obtained a research position culminating in the presentation of my research at a colloquium. Being a part of such an expansive research project was challenging due to the very limited amount of relevant biology that I had been exposed to prior to starting this research, but it was also fun because it posed new questions that I had the pleasure of attempting to answer. Conducting the research felt very foreign to me at first; however, as time went on, I began to feel a little more at home. Long, complicated days full of frustration or monotony soon began to feel very natural to me, and the resilience that I developed while pushing through these types of days became extremely useful when I moved on and transferred to UCI. Although many students hated the upper-division lab coursework due to unreasonable expectations and high work load, the exposure that I had via a fast-paced environment from this research made the load more manageable and overall more enjoyable when compared to how others felt about the classes.

Apart from helping me prepare myself for the rigorous environment of a 4-year university, the research that I was involved in allowed me to grow not just as a student but also on a personal level. Having the chance to present this research at both an honors conference (UC Irvine) and at a colloquium (Tennessee) gave me the opportunity to develop and improve on my communication and social skills. Conversing with a room full of student researchers and faculty was both terrifying and rewarding as we defended our research posters and attempted to explain many foreign concepts to those who had never been exposed to them. Having this type of intellectual discourse was valuable practice in regard to preparing myself for discussing lab protocols or general subject material with professors. In addition, working on this research exposed me to a huge group of talented and dedicated individuals, ultimately growing my small network of peers while at the college.

Furthermore, this research exposed me to topics that I would never have been aware of. Although I had taken biology, many courses looked at the world through a microscopic lens, focusing only on a small facet of a much larger ecosystem, leaving me blind to many of the environmental wonders right in front of my face. When discussing ecosystems, many people tend to think of the rainforest or savanna, but few turn their head to the microenvironment surrounding them. This research taught me to broaden my viewpoint of the world through potentially globalized applications of research while still maintaining a very intimate study with focus on our little microcosm of campus.

Although this research has not directly provided me a job or research position, it has allowed me to be taken more seriously when talking to course instructors about research ideas and lab protocol improvements. This ultimately allowed me to develop a more personal relationship with instructors, which in turn resulted in letters of recommendation and possible career avenues for the future. Furthermore, having been through this experience has pushed my decision to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. to continue my involvement in a research/lab environment.

Overall, my experience has allowed me to gain confidence in handling lab projects, improve various interpersonal skills, and most of all develop a network of peers that helped guide me through some of the tough times of college.

As a student in both research-integrated courses (Bio-11 and Bio-12) as well as being a part of the research team, I learned various laboratory techniques and became comfortable writing research protocols. Being exposed to PCR, gel electrophoresis, surveillancing wild life, working with bioinformatics and writing a research protocol has helped me vastly in my undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego. Not only have my experiences enriched my understanding of the course material by connecting the concepts to applications outside of the classroom, they have given me a greater confidence in my abilities to work well and efficiently with others and to work independently to solve scientific questions. In my lab courses I have had to run many gel electrophoresis as well as work with various bioinformatics websites such as NCBI BLAST that was utilized in Bio-11 and my experience has helped me stand out from my peers.

Having outside projects such as working with conservationists within our local community and collaborating with faculty at UCR gave me a greater appreciation for the local efforts being made to advance our community. My favorite project was the camera trapping and ArcGIS mapping because it was so interesting to observe the wild life interacting with our campus and being able to navigate their surroundings despite the population of students. Overall the experiences I had throughout the courses and collaborating with the team have resonated with me because they have had such a positive impact on me and have inspired me to continue in my studies to research epigenetics.

MVC graduates

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