“Let there be light”
When you see the logo of any University of California, you always see that phrase, “Let there be light.” The phrase lets the world know exactly what the purpose of the UC is — to shine a light on what’s possible in the world of education and research. In the midst of cutthroat private universities, we should be proud to know that UC is a world-class public research institution, dedicated to the needs of California and the world. I myself am marveled by the research, both scientific and general, that comes out of the system of schools under the UC umbrella. Being a UC Davis student and a science major, you might expect me to get my drive for research from what the UC system has done, but that’s not true. I had the opportunity to conduct real research at the community college level, something I did not think was possible before I did it. I would love to see community college students all over California get the same chance I did — and I believe the UC can help make that happen.
My collegiate journey began at one of California’s community colleges, Las Positas College, which is located in Livermore, Calif. It is a hub for public research because of the Livermore Lawrence National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory (both 15 minutes away from the college). Community college has a reputation among students of being a place where four-year rejects go to shape up, but that’s actually not true. It’s a place to save money on your general education, and where you get extraordinary attention and opportunities from your faculty. Fun fact: the college is located right behind a Costco so the students swore if it was ever made a UC, it should be called UCBC, or the University of California behind Costco.
Anyway, what surprised me about Las Positas was the passion behind the faculty. What I expected to be a “boring” transition between high school and a four-year university turned out to be a thrilling journey filled with academic delights. In my short time there, I wrote three research papers and was able to conduct research independently and with professors. I conducted wet-lab research on Drosophila melanogaster, looked at HOX genes and how they can help with regenerative medicine and applied green chemistry methods to the production of furan-based reactions. Some of my research took place in conjunction with Sandia/Livermore National labs, since community colleges don’t have all the resources that, say, a UC would have. My response to that lack of resources: why?
I propose an opportunity to the University of California — create a culture of research at the community college level. Most of the faculty attain degrees from public and private universities and have participated in research during their careers. With the smaller ratio of students to professors at the community college level, students get to know and collaborate with their faculty at a more intimate level. This can create an excellent batch of highly motivated individuals who have experience with research and are ready to jump into upper-division coursework at UCs.
Our UC President, Janet Napolitano, said in the L.A. Times that transfer students “are an important part of UC’s strength… put simply, if we are serving transfers well, then we are serving the state well.” Students have a choice of attending a four-year college out of high school, or choosing the path of community college like I did. I was given many opportunities to advance myself through independent research at my college; however, not all community colleges have the resources to do this.The community college I came from fought for grants from the state to have the equipment and ability to conduct independent research for high-achieving students. The UC Board of Regents can help all community colleges by allocating funding to let transfer hopefuls conduct their own research. The UC has a real chance to instill the values of “Let there be light” into transfers, and in turn, gain motivated and experienced students when they join our ranks.
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