The annual Summer Community College Opportunity for Research Experience (SCCORE) engages students from New Mexico community colleges intending to transfer to UNM in STEM fields and to give them a unique undergraduate research opportunity to learn and apply scientific practices in a working lab.

SCCORE is supported by the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP), a statewide partnership of universities and colleges with a goal to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who successfully complete their B.S. degrees in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.

The summer AMP SCCORE program recently concluded its fifth year providing opportunities to community college students interested in STEM careers. About five to 10 individuals are selected each spring to attend the summer program that runs four weeks. Program coordinators place each student in a research environment based in their stated interests and availability of mentors.

"Our AMP SCCORE participants gain valuable hands-on lab and field experiences, work with leading STEM faculty and research groups, and develop lasting relationships that help them progress through their challenging degree paths." - Laura Crossey, UNM AMP institutional coordinator

As part of the program, each individual is required to work a minimum of 20 hours per week along with developing a research poster project and presentation at the end of the summer. The students are paid a stipend and receive one course credit, along with group sessions on research methods and professional networking. Laura Crossey, UNM AMP institutional coordinator and acting associate dean for Research in A&S, and Marissa Harjoe, graduate student in Biology, work with the participants as a group on presentation skills, research ethics and methods, and overall support.

Crossey says that the program has been an excellent boost for engaging STEM transfers in undergraduate research. “Our AMP SCCORE participants gain valuable hands-on lab and field experiences, work with leading STEM faculty and research groups, and develop lasting relationships that help them progress through their challenging degree paths," she said. "Most participants continue the research engagement once matriculating to UNM, and build strong resumes that help them progress to graduate school.”

This year, three students are studying plant biology and photosynthesis with Biology Professor David Hanson. Each student is contributing to Hanson’s long-term study to better understand how plants are surviving in different environments, how to improve photosynthesis in plants and to truly understand their diversity.

“For the students, I want them to get a good feeling about what it’s like to design an experiment, to get the experience of collecting data properly and carefully then wrapping that data up and presenting those results,” said Hanson. “It gives them what the framework of science is in a very small capsule. If they like it then they have opportunities to come back to the lab and do more and create their own project.”

One student, Cassaundra Roback, is studying algae and how it is affected by different water sources. “I wasn’t pursuing this specific project, but I’m having a lot of fun working with it,” she said.

Roback is working to see if algae will grow in sample water collected from the Jemez Soda Dam spring. Since algae is a good bioindicator it can help determine the health of the ecosystem in that area. Additionally, she is conducting research in a second lab with Crossey. The lab’s focus is hydrology and water chemistry, where Roback analyzes water to look at cations and stable isotopes. By doing this, she is able to learn where the water came from such as monsoon season or winter runoff.

“It’s really interesting being able to do both labs,” Roback said. “I don’t have to be bored waiting for my algae to grow, I can go analyze water.”

Once Roback graduates from CNM, she hopes to transfer to UNM next year to complete her biology major. She would like to work in the medical field and become an optometrist.

“I think these labs will help with techniques and just knowing how to work technology,” said Roback. “The biggest thing is being able to network and talk to people, this experience has really opened doors and expanded my knowledge.”

Brandon Thompson, another student in the photosynthesis lab with Hanson, is studying Rubisco – an enzyme found in plants that activates carbon and makes it usable in providing air. Thompson is discovering what temperature and light Rubisco is used and activated more.

“I’ve never worked with plants before, but it’s interesting,” said Thompson. “I appreciate plants more. The lab is helping with daily life in making me more aware of how the body interacts and works with outside elements. My biggest takeaway is learning to read at a cellular level. Now when I have a cold it’s not just ‘oh I’ve got a cold’ but I can think ‘my cells are doing this because they’re reacting to this.’”

Thompson grew up in Jamaica and left at age 19 to live in Trinidad, Spain. He then moved to the U.K. to receive a business degree. Now living in the U.S., after graduating CNM, Thompson plans to pursue his interests in molecular biology and one day become a physician’s assistant.

“For anyone who is starting the STEM program or interested in STEM or science as a whole: get as much experience as possible,” Thompson said. “Experience builds, whatever you’re doing may seem small but it helps and builds. My business background builds on the knowledge I get, my way of studying, documenting, presenting and analyzing. Working at Starbucks can get you needed experience – it helps you talk to people and when you’re doing a presentation later in life that training comes in handy.”

For individuals interested in applying for next year’s SCCORE program, view the video “How to apply for the SCCORE Program” or use the SCCORE Student User Guide for step-by-step instructions to create an account and submit an application.

For more information on funding and program eligibility visit the website.