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Summer Research Sparks Student Interest in STEM

July 15, 2013

Roseanna García is conducting research of non-marine fossils as part of CSUF's Strengthening Transfer Education & Matriculation in STEM summer program.

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Student Crystal Cortez is spending the summer sorting and examining about 300 fossilized shark teeth unearthed at a site in Mission Viejo in 1981.

"The sharks are from the end of the Miocene and early Pliocene — about 6-4 million years ago," said Cortez, who is working with faculty mentor James Parham, assistant professor of geological sciences, and plans to turn her research into her first published article.

Her research is a result of Cortez's participation last summer in the Strengthening Transfer Education & Matriculation in STEM program, known as (STEM)².

The U.S. Department of Education-funded program is designed to encourage community college science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors to transfer to four-year institutions, including Cal State Fullerton. In 2011, CSUF received a nearly $6 million, five-year grant for the program.

"The overarching goal is to increase the number of Hispanic/Latino and low-income students attaining STEM baccalaureate degrees," said Maria V. Dela Cruz, project manager.

One program component is the eight-week Summer Research Experience for community college students. This summer, 35 students from Citrus, Cypress and Santiago Canyon colleges — all partners in the CSUF program — are working in 21 faculty labs in the colleges of Engineering and Computer Science and Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Dela Cruz said.

Roseanna García, a (STEM)² student from Citrus College, is working in the Parham Lab this summer on research of non-marine fossils found in Orange County, dating back 40 million years. "There's nothing better than having the hands-on research," said García as she carefully dug in a part of a bone bed, an unusually dense accumulation of fossils.

The research work of both Cortez and García are part of the preparation, curation and research efforts of Orange County fossils and artifacts underway at the John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, a County of Orange and CSUF partnership.

Cortez transferred to Cal State Fullerton from Citrus College this past spring as a result of her summer experience in the program. "(STEM)² changed my life. I was fortunate enough to be selected as a research student in the lab of Dr. Nicole Bonuso (assistant professor of geological sciences). Having never done research before was a challenge, but Dr. Bonuso believed in me and I kept pushing on."

The geology major was selected for the California State University Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program and is a (STEM)² peer mentor to community college students interested in pursuing degrees and careers in the STEM fields.

As a peer mentor, Cortez organizes student workshops on such topics as how to be successful as a STEM major and financial aid, and meets with students to address concerns or to connect them to resources to help them complete their education. She is among 12 undergraduates currently serving as peer mentors.

Other (STEM)² program services include assistance and advisement to transfer students to help them reach their highest academic potential, as well as counseling and supplemental instruction in gateway STEM courses at the partner community colleges, explained Dela Cruz.

Cortez, who aspires to earn a doctorate in vertebrate paleontology and work at the university level, is enthusiastic about conducting research.

"Dr. Parham is a great mentor who is extremely passionate about what he does. He pushes us to be the best and won't expect anything less, and has helped me to believe in myself," said Cortez, who will continue work with Parham this fall.

For more about (STEM)² visit the website.

By: Debra Cano Ramos, 657-278-4027

Tags:  Academics & Research