Creating a smoother transfer

While 81 percent of entering community college students indicate they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, only about 33 percent of community college students actually transfer to a four-year institution within six years, according to the Community College Research Center. Strengthening relationships between two-year and four-year institutions can help increase that rate.

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC) and Gaston College in North Carolina are building on a partnership with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) to help students smoothly transfer and earn biomedical degrees. With funding support from the National Institutes of Health, the collaborative Bridges to Baccalaureate Program will focus on exposing students to targeted resources and real-world research experiences.

Editor’s note: This article comes from the American Association of Community Colleges’ 21st-Century Center.

“This experience will not only help students support themselves financially, but it will also give them a unique relationship with faculty in a lab setting. Students will quickly learn if a biomedical career is for them,” said Carol Scherczinger, dean of arts and sciences at RCCC.

Opening doors

The program will work with a total of 45 students who will earn their associate degrees at Gaston College or RCCC before transferring to UNC Charlotte to complete their bachelor’s of science degrees in the biomedical sciences. Recruitment of students will include a focus on increasing the numbers of students from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Students who enter college with aspirations for biomedical careers sometimes lack the understanding of, and preparation for, the processes of science. Working together, we want to address the gaps so students can succeed,” said Bridges to Baccalaureate Program Director Christine Richardson, a biological sciences professor at UNC Charlotte.

Focus on three areas

The partnership includes three areas of emphasis, following a guided pathway model. First, students will receive intensive academic advising while using “degree maps” to help them chart their academic course. They also will receive individualized mentorship, cohort learning and embedded course tutoring at the community college and university institutions.

Second, students will conduct independent research projects with faculty at the community college and later at UNC Charlotte. Research at UNC Charlotte will include both summer and academic term independent research in a laboratory, conducting cutting-edge biomedical sciences research. These experiences will culminate in poster and oral presentations both on campus and at national scientific meetings as well as opportunities to publish in peer-reviewed journals.

Third, transfer students will pair with senior student mentors at the university level, attend regional networking events for biomedical professionals, participate in professional development workshops and take courses in bioethics.

The program builds upon a strong existing partnership among the three campuses, which in spring 2018 received funding from the National Science Foundation for the STEM Persistence and Retention via Curricula, Centralization, Cohorts, and Collaboration Project.

The three partners anticipate sharing educational best practices that have been developed or improved during the two projects. The regional project also is expected to contribute to the nationwide conversation around the issue of what helps – or hinders – community college students as they strive for careers in STEM fields, particularly in the life sciences.

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