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Spotlight on the Class of 2018

Sarah Raigoza

Associate in Science Degree
Liberal Arts / Biology

Phi Theta Kappa

National Science Foundation
Research Internships


Aspiring Marine Biologist Says
PCCC Turned the Tide in Her Life

Posted April 19, 2018

How does a young city woman who had little academic interest in high school become a promising researcher headed for a career in marine biology?

Sarah Raigoza might say that PCCC made a sea change in her life. “PCCC was my wake-up call,” said Sarah. “I matured here. I studied hard, developed a love for learning, and discovered my capabilities.”

Sarah also discovered a talent for research that led her to represent PCCC last February as a student presenter for the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon, a prestigious event co-sponsored by The Oceanography Society, American Geophysical Union, and Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

“It was amazing and very motivating to be around so many people who are so passionate and dedicated,” said Sarah.  “I’m the first in my family to go to college, and I was never around people with this kind of ambition for learning.”

Not long ago, the Clifton resident could not have imagined herself where she is now. “I wasn’t motivated in high school,” said Sarah. “I didn’t apply myself or study hard.”

When she graduated from Passaic County Technical Institute in 2015, Sarah had no clear direction for her future.  “I applied to two colleges, but was rejected by both of them,” she said.  “I didn’t know what I was going to do and really felt like a failure.”

A friend who was enrolling at PCCC encouraged Sarah to join her there, so they could support each other. With few other options, Sarah took the plunge, applied to PCCC, and has been riding a wave of academic and personal success ever since.

“PCCC enabled me to turn things around,” said Sarah.  “Professors here are very supportive, and I enjoyed the one-to-one relationship you can have with them.”  She singled out science professor Kala Mayur for encouraging her. “If it had not been for Professor Mayur, I would not be where I am now,” said Sarah.  “She opened me up to possibilities I would never have known about.”

One of those was an internship last summer at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography , a renowned research institute in Georgia. The five-week internship was provided through REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates), a program funded by the National Science Foundation.

“It was really intense,” said Sarah who worked on a research team that rowed up and down the gulf stream on a research vessel, surveyed dolphins, and went trawling.  “I got seasick once and our canoe tipped over another time,” she said, laughing.

In her primary research project at Skidaway, Sarah researched the ciliate parasite that causes black gill disease in shrimp. “We performed a DNA analysis to confirm that the parasite caused the disease in the shrimp,” she explained.  After experimenting with various treatments, the researchers successfully cured the shrimp. “That’s when I realized how much I enjoyed microbiology,” said Sarah.

Impressed by her work, the faculty at Skidaway nominated Sarah for the Portland conference, where she presented her research from the internship.  “Most of the other presenters at Portland were from four-year colleges or were graduate students” said Sarah. “Only two of us were from community colleges.”  See photos of Sarah’s research experiences

A member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at PCCC, Sarah participates in the Science Club and in the Bridges-to-Baccalaureate (B2B) program, an initiative to increase minority presence in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

“I am aware that as a Hispanic woman, I have to work harder to prove myself,” she said. “There is not much diversity in marine biology, but I want to be part of the effort to change that.”

Focused on her future, Sarah plans to become a wildlife veterinarian, specializing in marine life. “I love the ocean, and I like sharks, snakes, and animals most people are afraid of,” she said.

Next month, the young scientist expects to graduate from PCCC with her Associate in Science Degree in Liberal Arts/Biology and will be the first college graduate in her family. “I want to make them proud,” she said.

Sarah plans to continue her education at a four-year college that offers a strong bachelor’s degree program in veterinary science and applied to Rutgers-New Brunswick, Cornell, and University of California-Davis, but hasn’t made a decision yet.

“None of this would have happened if I had not come to PCCC,” said Sarah. “I think more people should go to community college. It’s done so much for me.”