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Grant gives boost to NAU-Yuma grads
Northern Arizona University-Yuma recently completed a four-year grant for their biology and environmental science program which yielded 30 graduates now prepared to enter into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) fields.
Students received financial support to pursue a bachelor's degree through the program thanks to a National Science Foundation scholarship grant for over $600,000, which NAU-Yuma faculty applied for in 2008.
"The program is kind of like that great financial incentive to help out people that normally would not have completed their science degree," said associate clinical professor of biology Francisco Villa, noting that many of the students who participated in the program had previously graduated from Arizona Western College.
"The program is need-based, but it pretty much should cover all tuition and then some for fees and some other living expenses," he said. "The goal of it was that it should have been enough that they wouldn’t necessarily have to have work part-time or full-time to have to pay for living expenses."
Through the two-year degree program, students were required to apply for summer paid internships outside of Yuma, of which students participated in projects across the United States and even in Russia. Villa shared that the REUs (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) were a great opportunity for students to get invaluable hands-on experiences in their field.
"We’ve seen from students that come from this area, a lot of them will stay only in Yuma and with this program we kind of encouraged them to do something outside of Yuma," he said. "…It’s great because it gets them exposed to these other areas that they wouldn’t have normally thought of or known about. If they stay in Yuma and work here, they have that experience and exposure to these places that no one else would be getting."
At NAU-Yuma, he said that their philosophy is to "grow their own" labor force locally.
One of their recent graduates, Mindy Torres, is now working as a supplemental instructor through the Pipeline Grant, a partnership with NAU-Yuma to create an educational pathway for AWC career and technical education graduates to get a bachelors of applied science in industrial technologies.
Torres graduated from NAU-Yuma in May with a Bachelor's of Science in biology and a minor in chemistry.
While at her internship at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, she had an opportunity to be a part of a project researching aquatic species invasive in ship ballast tanks like Asian clams, quagga mussels and the New Zealand mudsnail.
"Our goal was to find a cost efficient and environmentally safe method to get rid of the invasive species on the ships and find time intervals in which the ships would have to apply this treatment," she said. "This experience was beyond anything that I could have been able to learn in any classroom. We used cutting edge technologies, applied methods taught in classrooms and applied it to a real problem affecting the environment. My part was small in doing this research but it was exhilarating to be a part of a potential solution to a real problem here in the U.S."
Alfonso Dominguez also graduated from NAU-Yuma in May with a bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and an emphasis in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. He's currently a student worker for the U.S. Geological Survey, a science organization that provides information on the health of the ecosystems and environment, natural hazards, natural resources, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems. In Yuma, he works with USGS hydro technicians through an AWC internship to conduct stream flow measurements and water quality data of the Colorado River.
During his internship through the NAU-Yuma program he had the opportunity to participate in the 2012 Polaris Project which conducted research in the Siberian Arctic in Northeast Russia.
"The Polaris Project aims to train the next generation of arctic researchers, and to inform the public about the arctic and how it has been affected by global climate change... While there I spent my efforts with the Aquatic Survey team collecting water samples from lakes, rivers, and streams for filtration and analysis," he said. "This was truly a once in a lifetime sort of experience and I would not have traded it for anything. Not only did I make new experiences that will help me with my career as a scientist, but I made some connections with an outstanding group of individuals."
Lastly, Julio Quintanilla also graduated from NAU-Yuma with a bachelor's degree in Biology with a Chemistry minor. He plans to pursue a master's degree or doctorate in a research related field connected to conducting leukemia research.
Quintanilla had the opportunity to attend NAU in Flagstaff for his internship where he worked at the Microbial Genetics and Genomics laboratory.
"I was working with a fungus... which affects bats in the northeastern part of the United States," he said. "I feel that having hands-on experience on actual research made me more confident and somehow perfected my skills in the laboratory."
For more information about the program, which is hoped to be offered again in 2014 dependent on the renewal of funding, contact Villa at email@example.com or 317-7080. He added that there are also several other local area scholarships available to NAU-Yuma students.