Supporting rising researchers

By El Paso Community College

Paid, hands-on research opportunities are central to a program at a Texas college

Since April 2000, El Paso Community College (EPCC) has provided students with paid research experiences and supplemental instruction to prepare them for biomedical research careers through the RISE Bridge Program.

The grant-funded Rise to the Challenge Bridge Program expands on the RISE program, but still provides the same benefits for students – and for their future employers. Participants – known as Rise Bridge Scholars – work in a research laboratory at EPCC, University of Texas El Paso and/or New Mexico State University. EPCC students are hired to work 19 hours per week during the fall and spring semesters and 29 hours per week during the summer.

They also participate in science enrichment activities, research techniques workshops, career advising and travel to national scientific conferences.

Students flourish

Mateo Flores, an EPCC Rise Bridge Scholar, recently received the award for “Best Short Talk Presentation” at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology Rio Grande Branch. He was joined by fellow interns Gloria Sepulveda and Kerwin Iglesias, who also presented at the conference. All three students will have their presentation abstracts published in the Clinical Infection and Immunity Journal.

EPCC biology professor and RISE Bridge Program Director Maria Alvarez said conference participation is a key component of the program. “Students participating at these conferences learn about current scientific developments that are having an impact on their communities and the world and have the opportunity to interact with prestigious scientists and faculty from a variety of institutions,” Alvarez said.

Wanting to get hands-on experience and conduct experiments are what motivated Flores to get involved with Rise Bridge program at EPCC. His conference remarks focused on Needle Point Bipolar Ionization, or NBPI, which is a new technology that can be added to existing HVAC systems to significantly reduce the bacteria in the air and airborne transmission of disease.

Flores is planning to transfer to the University of Texas, El Paso, and continue his research there.

He said that being able to get paid has helped relieve some of the financial anxieties and pressures that come with attending college. “It’s hard to go to college without fear of having debts in the future but being in this program has been fun and I’m glad I got the chance to do it.”

Gloria Sepulveda’s research assessed the quality of the water in the Rio Grande river and the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in it. Because of her passion regarding the topic, she was glad to have the opportunity to present her findings at the conference.

“Joining the RISE program has been such a memorable experience because I got to know so many qualified people, and the fact that these people have a similar background to mine encourage me to keep striving to achieve my goals.” Sepulveda said. “EPCC has provided the tools I need to further develop critical thinking skills and to awake the love for my community through volunteer experiences and club participation.”

Alvarez is always proud to see her students receive recognition for their efforts but she’s particularly proud of them this year.

“My students were facing additional financial, health and work format challenges caused by the pandemic, and they outperformed students at other institutions,” Alvarez said.

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El Paso Community College

is located in El Paso, Texas.