On May 2, 2019, faculty members Dr. Debra Socci and Dr. Deborah Barr, along with 11 students from Seminole State College of Florida, visited New Mexico as part of a Travel Studies in Biology: Women in Science course. This experiential learning course was designed to expose female community college students to the unique culture and natural ecosystems of New Mexico, while introducing them to scientists engaged in research and sustainability projects as a vehicle for career exploration, enhancement, and inspiration.
Under the leadership of the NMC Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Steven J. Buelow, this student group first visited the New Mexico Consortium (NMC), and took a tour of the NMC’s biological laboratory and greenhouse. Students were able to meet research scientists, Dr. Shujian Zhang and Dr. Laura Dickson, to hear about their ongoing research on citrus plant disease and Zika virus in mosquitos.
Dr. Socci states that before coming to New Mexico she knew nothing about the NMC, yet was somewhat familiar with research opportunities at national laboratories. One of her former students, Trishelle Copeland Johnson, completed a Department of Energy (DOE) Community College Internship (CCI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) several years ago, and is now a Ph.D. candidate in materials science at Iowa State University. Because of Trishelle’s positive experience at ORNL, Dr. Socci was encouraged to submit (and was awarded) a small grant from the Atkins Foundation to foster more awareness of science careers for female undergraduate students. (An NSF Sustainability Grant #1501486 provided additional financial support for their two trips.)
The group found the NMC’s cultivation of cooperation between government, industry, and academia in an effort to solve big scientific problems to be quite amazing. Socci states, “We are grateful to Dr. Buelow for sharing the Consortium’s research with us.”
After the morning tour of the NMC Biolab, Dr. Buelow arranged an additional tour of various Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) research at the Los Alamos Research Park. The group met with LANL R&D Engineer David Mascarenas for a discussion and tour. They also met with LANL researcher Dr. Lissa Moore to hear a discussion on high performance computing at LANL. Last, they met with Dr. Colette Caskie for a discussion and tour of NMC computer facilities.
Dr. Deborah Barr and Dr. Debra Socci plan to share this experience with their students and colleagues on all they learned about NMC and LANL research at their department meeting in the fall.
The student’s remarks are testaments to the value and depth of learning experience at the NMC and LANL:
Daliany Gerena, freshman; Business Management Major:
Dr. Shujian Zhang’s use of transgenic plants to try to diminish the detrimental effects of Huanglongbing (yellow dragon disease) on tree populations is so important. I was unaware of the extent of citrus tree infection prior to this visit to NMC. I did not know that so many of our trees are infected and without a solution, citrus agriculture in Florida (and globally) may disappear soon!
Dr. Laura Dickson’s work with transgenic mosquitoes was fascinating. It was so interesting to see how she is using genetically modified bacteria to express genes that target dengue and Zika viruses. She shared her career path with us and stressed the importance of finding a mentor to help guide our career paths.
Janina Bagherzadeh, sophomore; creative writing major:
It was so interesting to see all the different things that were going on in one place! One thing that struck me was the enthusiasm of Dr. Lissa Moore who said that working at LANL melds the interests of academia and industry. She shared with us how she keeps learning new things and growing while earning a living. I want a job that does that for me! It is amazing to find a place where you can do this—and make a difference with what you do.
Elizabeth Velazquez, employee at the college, enrolled in continuing education:
I was most amazed with the interactive 3D glasses we used in Dr. Mascarenas’ lab!
Rowan Hassan, sophomore; bioscience major:
Today, I decided I am definitely coming back to New Mexico. We visited the New Mexico Consortium and the Los Alamos National Lab and I was never so inspired to pursue research as a career!
At LANL, we were greeted by Dr. Mascarenas. He described his research with drones. We got to use these AMAZING AR headsets that showed us in real time where all the satellites around Earth are. I am amazed at how far technology has come. Excited for the future!
I am really excited about the internship opportunities I learned about! I never considered this as a possibility before, but now it is heavily possible that I will be back.
Bethany Antao, sophomore; pre-Vet major:
Today we visited the Los Alamos National Laboratory which was WAY inspiring. I loved every moment of it and it really opened my eyes up to the possibilities because we can do anything in the world with just a little help. I was fascinated when Dr. Shujian Zhang explained to us that they are using trained dogs to detect leaves infected with citrus Huanglongbing… with incredible accuracy…something I would love to participate in. In a few years, a huge decline in citrus trees in Florida may happen!
Danielle Fleming, sophomore; nursing major:
The best was when I breathed into the mosquito boxes in Dr. Dickson’s lab and all the mosquitoes became very active and flew towards my breath cone!
I also enjoyed learning about zebra chips from Dr. Zhang!
Nathalie Bose-Silver, sophomore; professional chef and hospitality management major:
It was so cool to see the mosquitoes sucking on cow’s blood and seeing them under the microscope to observe the different mouth parts in males and females.
Susan Reams, sophomore; bioscience major:
It was so inspiring to see the labs and all the scientists working on research. It is a place I want to be.
Emily Gearhart, sophomore; bioscience major:
Dr. Zhang told us about the plight of citrus in Florida due to Huanglongbing (yellow dragon disease). It causes the leaves to yellow and affects the taste and shape of the fruit. I found it fascinating that smart dogs can detect the disease early!
In the labs, there was so much going on! I LOVED IT! We observed the fluffier mouth parts of male mosquitoes and compared them to the single mouth pieces of females, who bite us to get blood required to produce eggs. We saw mosquito larvae and how they move differently when they swim.
At LANL, I enjoyed seeing all the technology research and computers. We learned about the development of software, drones, and lasers that can detonate bombs. The hologram glasses were really cool