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Spotlight on the Class of 2019

 

 
Eric Mendoza

 
Associate in Science Degree in Biology
 
B2B Graduate Award
National Science Foundation Internships

 

Preparing for a Future in Genetics Research
 

Posted May 20, 2019 

 

Eric Mendoza will not be attending PCCC’s 47th Commencement on May 23.  Even though he is a member of the Class of 2019 and receives an associate’s degree in biology.

“I’m sorry I can’t be here for Commencement, but I’m happy about the reason why,” said Eric.

An award-winning student researcher, Eric is at Penn State University where he is participating in  a prestigious research internship, Geopaths Field Experience, on the topic of near surface geophysics technology. The project, a collaboration of Penn State and Rutgers University, is funded by the National Science Foundation.

This summer, Eric will also head to the University of Pennsylvania for the Summer Research Internship in Genomics, a subject related to DNA.

These are among the numerous research internships that Eric has gained through PCCC. “The opportunities I had here at PCCC have been really great,” he said. In his two years as a student at PCCC, Eric has been recognized for his research, which he presented at conferences around the state. 

A 2017 graduate of Passaic High School, Eric was a good student in school, but unlike some of his classmates, didn’t have what he called “the mindset of someone focused on the college path.”

“When senior year came, I was clueless,” he admitted.  “I wasn’t even thinking about college.”
It was when Eric saw others around him heavily involved in the college application process, that he sent out a few applications, but not with any particular preferences in mind.

“It turns out I had missed the deadlines,” he said, laughing. With no other options, Eric applied to PCCC and was accepted. “My brother came to PCCC before me, and now he’s at NJIT, so it seemed like a good choice,” he said.

At PCCC, Eric found a support team that worked closely with him to help develop his talent for scientific research. “The STEM people are really great,” he said, acknowledging Professors Kala Mayur, Thom van Aken, Martin Baranowski, and Erica Foote.

“I like that it’s a tight community here at PCCC,” said Eric. “There are lots of good people among the faculty, and I like that so many of the students have aspirations.”

Though Eric was unclear about his college choices when he was still in high school, he did encounter the subject that has driven his research and influenced his career goals.

“I took a high school science class that focused on genetics, and I really got into that,” he said.
Eric was especially intrigued by bioinformatics, the use of computers to work with biological data to solve problems.

At PCCC, Eric became involved with the B2B program through the guidance of Professor Van Aken, the director of the Northern New Jersey Bridges to Baccalaureate (B2B) program, an alliance of associate-degree granting public institutions that support the success of minority students in STEM fields, where they have been typically underrepresented.

It has been largely through B2B that Eric received internships to conduct scientific research and to present his findings at conferences.

Last summer, Eric participated in a research project at Rutgers University in Newark. “It was about soil chemistry,” he said.  “That wasn’t really in my area, but I like the opportunity to learn other material,”
said Eric. “That also gave me more experience doing research and working alongside other researchers.”

In October, the students who participated in that summer internship were invited to present their findings at a STEM research conference held at Rutgers-New Brunswick, The Annual Northern New Jersey B2B / GS-LSAMP Research Conference at Rutgers-New Brunswick. Eric presented a poster on the topic: Mineralist Transformation of Green Rust During Oxidation. His was among the presentations to receive an Outstanding Poster Award.

This month Eric received the B2B Graduate Award “for outstanding STEM research and ongoing educational peer support.”

A tutor in the STEM department at PCCC, Eric also recently participated in a presentation for high school students about DNA, sharing the presentation with Professor Foote.  “It went well,” he said
“The students seemed interested and said they enjoyed it.”

When asked if being a presenter and tutor has inspired him to teach, Eric said he has considered that possibility. “My main goal is research,” he said, “but teaching at a university involved with genetic research, could be in the future.”

 
Written and photographed by Linda Telesco