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A Love for Science

Posted on August 20, 2014

A Love for Science From left to right: Grace Jackson, Courtney “Marshall” Yowell and Nguyen “Kyle” Tran

By Holly Walker

Grace Jackson, Nguyen “Kyle” Tran and Courtney “Marshall” Yowell love science. So, when each of the John Tyler Community College students learned about a new summer program that would give them the opportunity to work in a research laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), they jumped at the chance to apply. After submitting their applications and going through an interview process, the three were excited to learn that they were selected to be the first cohort of the VCU Bridges to the Baccalaureate Dream-to-Goal program (DTG).

The DTG program began in June, and the three immediately found themselves immersed in life at VCU. They moved into dorms on the Richmond campus and began their classes. For the first three weeks, they participated in a biology boot campus, during which they learned basic lab research techniques such as concentration calculation, solution preparation, aseptic techniques, cell culture methods, isolation and analysis of macromolecules, immuno assays, electrophoresis of proteins and DNA, polymerase chain reaction, and more. Then, they moved into a five-week internship at research labs where they got even more hands-on experience. Jackson’s research work involved studying the development of cartilage in frogs. Tran studied flatworms and how they are a predator of the eastern oyster. And, Yowell’s work involved the study of cancer cells. 

At the end of the eight-week program, the three came together with the six other students who made up the DTG program’s first cohort to give presentations on the research in which they had been involved and to celebrate the completion of the program’s first summer. Among those in attendance were members of the VCU faculty, VCU students, and the families of the DTG students.

When asked about the program, Yowell says he liked learning by immersion and that it helped him become more confident in his abilities. He has not decided which field of science he’d like to pursue, but he plans to keep exploring his options as he works on his associate degree in General Studies, Science Specialization at Tyler. This fall, he also plans to work as a teaching assistant for a new science class at JTCC.

Jackson, an aspiring marine biologist who is also in the General Studies, Science Specialization program at JTCC, says her summer in the program gave her new insight into science in general and into how research really works. She says she also liked that the program included practical information about what she can expect when she transfers to a four-year college or university to complete her bachelor’s degree.

Tran plans to take what he’s learned this summer and put it to work in his classes at Tyler. He wants to become an environmental scientist and believes his new skills will help him as he completes his General Studies, Science Specialization degree at Tyler and when he continues his studies at a four-year institution.

Next summer, the three will return to VCU for the second year of the program. At that time, they will each get to work on an eight-week independent research project, and they’ll be given the opportunity to present their findings at professional conferences.

VCU partnered with John Tyler and Thomas Nelson Community College for the program. Faculty from both community colleges help with selecting the DTG program participants and running the summer camp. At John Tyler, Dr. Shijian Chu has taken a lead role in this program. He participated in this summer’s program at VCU, and starting this fall, he will teach a new course being offered by John Tyler – BIO 170 Biotechnology Methods. Students who sign up for this class will learn the same research skills taught during VCU’s summer program, and those who complete the course will be eligible to participate in next summer’s research internship at VCU. To find out more about the class or how JTCC students can apply for the DTG program, contact Dr. Chu at

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Holly Walker, Public Relations Manager


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