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“You can do this, too!” was the message the National Institutes of Health was sending to college students by hosting Community College Day at the NIH Campus in Bethesda on November 20. About 190 Montgomery College students and faculty members attended, out of 800 registered participants. The keynote address at the event focused not on academics, but on reminding students that they are complex and valuable individuals: more than their grades and job titles.

Dr. Erica Barr coordinates the annual event at NIH

The students attended career sessions during lunch focused on their specific field, and morning sessions focused on résumé enhancement, transitioning from a community college to a four-year university, and managing stress, among others. The afternoon was devoted to providing information about applying to summer internship programs.

The program was created in 2010 after the NIH leadership realized that only a small number of community college students participated in the NIH Summer Internship Program (SIP), according to Erica Barr, Director of the NIH Community College Programs and SOAR (Summer Opportunities to Advance Research.) They created the NIH Community College Program with the goal of increasing that number. “The program strives to encourage students to transfer to a four year college or university and pursue a career in STEM and/or health care,” Dr. Barr said. It focuses on providing students with research skills, professional development, and mentoring.

MC student Nadege Dogbo at NIH Community College Day 2018

MC alumna Marlene Morales, ’18, attended the event for the second year in a row, after not getting into the internship last summer. “I am back here again to get feedback, and get this internship in the summer of 2019,” she said. Morales is part of the ACES program and graduated last spring from Montgomery College with an associate’s in exercise science before transferring to the University of Salisbury at USG to pursue a BA in exercise science with a minor in health.

Nadege Dogbo, a current MC student of nursing and genetics, is also interested in NIH’s summer internship. “It would be a good opportunity to hone my research skills, so I came to find out more, network, and see what options I have,” she said.

Being a first generation or a minority student isn’t a drawback, but it is just another obstacle we can overcome

The NIH is interested in reaching community college students because, as Dr. Barr said, they would like to expose them to more STEM career resources and opportunities to gain biomedical research experience. At the event, students met NIH professionals who are working in various areas of biomedical research and health care, but they also talked to community college alumni who have participated in the NIH Community College Summer Enrichment Program.

Alumna Marlene Morales, ’18, at NIH

Morales found the networking helpful. “It was interesting hearing about the different pathways and opportunities available to a community college student,” she said. Many of the stories she heard emphasized that NIH sees beyond where students come from and opens a door full with opportunities to the driven. “Being a first generation or a minority student isn’t a drawback, but it is just another obstacle we can overcome.* This motivated me to take chances once again, and not only reapply for their SIP program but also for a $20,000 scholarship. That’s the beauty of risk taking; you never know where you’ll end up.”

Banner photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health. 

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