Kevin Moore, a 26-year-old medical student at Stanford University, remembers how the research he did after his second year at West Los Angeles College changed his career goal.
That summer in 1986, he took part in Occidental College's Summer Research Program, which places Los Angeles-area community college students in laboratories with Occidental students under the supervision of Occidental professors.
Until then, Moore was going to be a physician.
Now he is going into research.
"There are very few blacks in academic science. I'd like to be a role model," said Moore, who is in his second year of the medical program. "I'm considering a career in research, and if I hadn't gone through the program, I wouldn't have."
Breaking New Ground
Occidental's 4-year-old program is the one that broke the ice nationally in paying community college students to perform scientific research, according to George Ruebottom, program director of chemistry for the National Science Foundation in Washington.
Two Occidental professors put the program together after seeing statistics indicating a severe shortage of scientists in the coming decade. A survey by the foundation estimated that by the year 2010, there may will be a need for 450,000 engineers and scientists.
"There simply aren't that many kids going into science," said Frank DeHaan, an Occidental teacher. "That's the overriding reason for our doing this program."
An empirical relationship exists between students doing research and deciding what aspect of science to enter, said Chris Craney, founder of the research program. He added that this is especially true at the community college level, where there are few lab facilities.
"At this stage, students are trying to find out their talents and strengths," he said.
The summer program allows students to discover whatever laboratory skills they might have before completing their undergraduate science work.
"Before, they might not have appreciated it," Craney said.
DeHaan got involved after Craney sought funding for the program in the early 1980s. The Dreyfus Foundation gave a $25,000 grant to the school in 1984 because it was intrigued with Craney's belief that the talented minds who were bypassing science could be found in community colleges.
Forty students have finished the program since its inception, all but one of whom have remained in science. Half of the students, who have gone on to graduate programs at Stanford, Harvard and UCLA, are Occidental undergraduates and the other half are Los Angeles-area community college chemistry majors.
"I don't think it could get much bigger," said Craney, who insists that the program must remain relatively small to make an impact on individuals. Nine students are working at Occidental this summer.
Paired with one Occidental student, each community college student performs experiments related to an Occidental professor's principal research. The results are likely to be published in a chemistry journal with the students listed as co-authors.
In a campus lab, Tetsuo Otsuki, who is presently researching aspects of the disease psoriasis, said he depends on student research 100%.
Pointing to one student who was performing a rudimentary test on her first day with the program, Otsuki said, "Next year, her work will be presented somewhere."
Students contrasted their involvement with technology at Occidental with not only the very limited amount at their junior colleges, but also that of programs at larger colleges.
"If I went to UCLA, I would never get my hands on one of these," Ron Alva said of a $50,000 liquid chromographer. "Here, research is hands-on, not some touchy-feely thing," said Alva, a Los Angeles Harbor College student who will attend Occidental in the fall. He had also been accepted at UCLA.
The scientific fields face a shortage of minorities and women, as well as bright minds in general, Craney and DeHaan said. Moore said part of his desire to be a role model stems from never had having a black science professor.
Though the Occidental program doesn't specifically seek out under-represented groups, mining Los Angeles community colleges has brought a large minority makeup to it.
"We've just tried to get the very best we can, and about 50% have been minority and women," Craney said.
Noting that at community colleges, standout students can be overpraised big fish in small ponds, Craney stressed that for these students, hands-on affirmation of skills is necessary for success.
"To have it as fact and not a belief is important," Craney said.