Building on the success of four years of prior support, the new 2-year environmental science research Program supported by The Rose Hills Foundation was offered exclusively to community college students. The funds supported at least 6 students per year for 2 years and covered a portion of the associated supply costs, travel costs to one conference per year, and the time dedicated to the project by Oak Crest Faculty (i.e., mentoring and Program recruitment/evaluation). Students were recruited from Citrus College, Pasadena City College, and other San Gabriel Valley area community colleges. These Rose Hills Foundation Fellowships were based on 20 hours per week so that students concurrently enroll in classes at their home institutions without having to seek outside employment. Six Fellowships per year, each lasting 6 months, were awarded annually. The students worked in teams of two and received individualized mentoring by an Oak Crest scientist.
This program has been a huge success and a win-win situation for both the students and the research projects they worked on. It has been our experience that participation in rigorous, original research provides students with a realistic sense of how exciting a career in science can be, and builds self-confidence while offering strong motivation to continue and excel in their studies. Participants in the proposed program are more competitive in future academic (e.g., transfer to four-year schools) or professional (e.g., finding employment in a technical field) endeavors. Increasingly, Oak Crest’s community education activities are filling the growing need in academia for high-quality, hands-on laboratory experiences, as well as demand from industry for well-prepared entry-level scientists and technicians. The broad research activity at Oak Crest is reflected in the research experiences of our fellows:
- Microbial ecology: Bacterial community composition and function will be assessed in unique biogeochemical niches, such as tar pools. These studies have implications with respect to remediation of pollution (e.g., oil spills) and life on other planets;
- Natural products research: Screening for new therapeutics will be carried out using extracts from exotic plants housed at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Natural products from plant sources are undeniably important in the discovery of new pharmaceutical agents;
- Atmospheric chemistry: Light driven reactions on the surface of airborne dust particles will be carried out in the laboratory, and their significance to atmospheric processes will be determined. Nonvolatile products of such processes are thought to be implicated in atmospheric pollution and concomitant adverse health effects.
- Origin of life
- Drug delivery
- Bacterial biofilms in health and disease
These activities build on the existing expertise and facilities available at Oak Crest and leverage ongoing, funded research projects.