Eight of Brookdale’s highest achieving science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students have been selected to work with local experts on a variety of year-long research initiatives and serve as peer tutors at Brookdale as part of an ongoing grant program funded by NASA and the New Jersey Space Grant Consortium (NJSGC).
The new NASA STEM Fellows, who were officially announced to the college community during a kick-off party in the Brookdale STEM Lounge on Sept. 27, will also receive a $5,000 fellowship toward their education.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved,” said assistant biology professor Gitanjali Kundu, who joined grant program co-administrator and assistant mathematics professor Susan Monroe at the kickoff party. “It gives the students wonderful exposure to different kinds of research work and opportunities outside of Brookdale in terms of collaboration.
“Other Brookdale students will also benefit from the free tutoring that each STEM Fellow will provide this year. They will be there for their fellow students, and they can serve as role models for students who may just be starting out in a major or a career path.”
Throughout the 2016-17 school year, each STEM Fellow will work with dedicated mentors from a local college, university or private industry on a real-world research initiative in their field of study. Students will present their work to the college community this spring.
Joe Bongiorno, an electrical engineering and physics major from Sayreville, will combine his lifelong passions for music and electronics by working to create new digital effects for the electric base guitar. He also plans to break down the instrument’s circuitry in an effort to show how digital effects can be created and manipulated to create new, unique sound profiles.
“This is a massive honor. Truthfully, I almost fell out of my seat when I found out. I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity,” said Bongiorno. “I work outside of school, but I say all the time that college is my real job. Because this is what I love. I’m more than excited to get to work, and to help students excel in their own STEM careers and do what I had to do as a new student. The money is a huge plus, don’t get me wrong, but this wasn’t about the money for me. This was about the experience. For an undergrad, something like this is awesome.”
Howell native and second-year biology major Grace Groh will be working with an orthopedic surgeon to study a new method of ACL reconstruction surgery which uses dissolvable plastic screws instead of metal ones.
An aspiring health care professional, Groh said she will assist her mentor in tracking the results of the new method, which is believed to be more efficient and allows patients to recover quicker.
Joseph Guth, a mathematics and physics major from Freehold, will work on a project titled “Thriving on Mars,” which aims to use principles from math, chemistry and engineering to understand what materials and strategies could be used to sustain human life on the Red Planet.
Second-year chemical engineering major Mike LaMura will spend the year working with a Rutgers University professor on comprehensive research project involving DNA and the self-assembly of molecules. A Bradley Beach native, LaMura will also be traveling to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia next month as part an aerospace engineering outreach program he began earlier this summer, which required him to submit a design for a Mars rover prototype.
“I’m really excited,” said LaMura, a former psychology major who is now returning to college in his 30’s to pursue a passion in science. “It’s a very big opportunity and I want to make the most of it.”
Christine Little, a second-year biology major from Highlands, plans to pursue her lifelong passion for entomology by studying with an area university professor on a year-long research effort.
“It doesn’t feel real, honestly. But it’s awesome,” Little said. “I don’t care if I’m sorting stuff or carrying things or whatever. I just want to learn and get involved and meet people in the field. As for my work here, I think I’m made to be a tutor. In all my classes, I’m always helping everyone around me if they ever have questions or difficulties. I would really like to work with people who feel maybe a little insecure in their field and help build their confidence up a little, help them learn and realize that they can do anything.”
Howell native and former Brookdale Auto Tech graduate Anthony Mauro will pursue his burgeoning second career in mechanical engineering by working with automotive professor Paul Tucker to restore and reinvigorate an old hybrid car. Throughout the year Mauro will work to repair the car’s aging battery cells and improve its gas mileage and performance, hopefully bringing it in line with models that are being produced today.
“It’s a big workload, but it’s what I’m good at,” said Mauro, a husband and young father working toward a new career in automotive engineering. “As a full-time student with a family, this fellowship is a huge opportunity for me.”
Andrea Sissick, a second-year environmental science major from Sayreville, will spend the year studying marine life, ocean acidification and climate change impacts off the coast of Sandy Hook with two Rutgers professors.
Specifically, Sissick will help study three species of fish that have moved away from their traditional habitats and learn what their new environmental needs are to help scientists and local fisheries understand their current and future migration patterns. She will also help the team create a 50-year projection for local fish movements.
Second-year biology major and Howell native Sameerah Wahab will work with a Monmouth University botany professor to study and hopefully eliminate an invasive species of fungus that is currently decimating area vineyards. She and her mentor will also collaborate on a lesson plan for future biology students, allowing them to replicate the study and get an in-depth look at “biology in action.”
A member of the Brookdale chapter of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and one of the top 20 community college students in the country in 2015, Wahab said she is grateful for the opportunity to advance her education while giving back to her fellow students.
“I’m extremely happy to have been selected for this program,” said Wahab. “As a returning student, I feel that you have a responsibility to reach out to newer students and help them conquer the same obstacles you went through. At a community college, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing – acting as a community.”
Each STEM Fellow will offer free peer tutoring to current Brookdale students in the STEM Lounge, located in MAS 107. Peer tutoring is available most times between 10 am and 5 pm from Monday through Thursday. For more information or to see tutor availability visit the STEM Lounge webpage.