As part of several grant programs, PC students are being paid to conduct undergraduate research. The students are studying the levels of microplastics (plastic fragments) in a local water treatment facility to determine if a tiny microbe might aid in biodegrading the plastic particles.
According to recent studies, 140 million tons of plastic are produced every year, and 94 percent of tap water in the US contains microplastics. The World Health Organization recently reported that there is not enough evidence to conclude if microplastics pose risks to human health, but does affirm that microplastics are ubiquitous; being found in fresh and salt water, food, and even bottled water.
PC Students Lead The Way
Through three National Science Foundation (NSF) funded grant programs, PC students receive financial support ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 per semester to perform the research. Each semester, students and faculty conduct research in PC’s microbiology laboratory, collecting samples, establishing study protocols, and reporting on their findings.
Students say that the stipend is great, but it’s the research experience that is invaluable. Amanda Morrison, who graduates from PC in May, says that exploration has made her more confident in her capabilities and she knows that she wants a career in science.
PC freshman Lisa Cadrel said that her ‘aha’ moment was realizing that the research could help solve the global water contamination problem. “This experience is not only preparing me for a career in a STEM field, it is propelling me towards achieving my degree in ways far greater than I ever expected.”
Hitting A Grand Slam
Last spring, PC students won first place at the Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science meeting in Yuma, Arizona with their research project. Each year, the Academy of Science hosts an interdisciplinary gathering to discuss science, mathematics and engineering. Faculty, graduate and undergraduate students present their research in all areas of science and mathematics during oral paper sessions or a combined poster session. The Phoenix College team knocked it out of the park – winning first place.
Roberto Martinez Jr. says “People are often surprised when they learn that PC has a research team. It is important for all science majors to be exposed to research opportunities because it really teaches us how to fail and make mistakes, which is a natural part of the scientific process and life in general. Working alongside my team members enhances cross-disciplinary skills as we learn from one another.”
PC faculty member and undergraduate research mentor Robin Cotter says that “Many of the STEM faculty at PC come from research backgrounds, so we know that helping our students make connections with industry and university partners is key to their success as they move along their career pathway. Through undergraduate research, we are empowering students to find creative solutions to the environmental issues we face. PC students are the next generation of scientists, engineers and healthcare providers and they are definitely up to the challenge.”
To learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at Phoenix College, visit phoenixcollege.edu.
Additional Student Quotes
“Participating in this research project encourages me to think outside-of-the-box and apply myself in a greater capacity. Working alongside like-minded peers provides the opportunity to develop collaboration and team-building skills; strengthening workforce critical skills.”
“When we visited the City of Surprise wastewater treatment facility to collect samples, I gained valuable hands-on experience with scientific sampling. Then, as we analyzed our data, I gained a deeper understanding of the implications of the research we are conducting and how important the project is.”
Dr. Robin Cotter, PC Faculty, Quote
Many of the STEM faculty at PC come from research backgrounds, so we know that helping our students make connections with industry and university partners is key to their success as they move along their career pathway. Undergraduate research is one way we can partner with local industry and government agencies to provide workforce training for our students within the first two years of their academic careers.
I’m excited that we’re partnering with the City of Surprise Wastewater Treatment Plant and researchers at ASU to identify ways we can detect microplastics and other potential contaminants in our water systems. After the students identify what types of microplastics are found in local water sources, the next challenge is for them to design ways to remove those contaminants in order to improve water quality.
Through undergraduate research, we are empowering our students to find creative solutions to the environmental issues we face today. PC students are the next generation of scientists, engineers and healthcare providers and they are definitely up to the challenge.
Dana Wang PC Faculty Member and Undergraduate Research Mentor Quote
I think undergraduate research provides students with a stronger and deeper understanding of science. The exposure to undergraduate research has been shown to increase transfer rates, enhanced critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills, and improved the ability to work on a team. I really like the quote from Brian Thomas, associate dean for undergraduate research opportunities at Stanford University, told U.S. News and World Report in the article "Why Undergraduate Research Matters in College"
“I think [undergraduate research] really helps students mature as thinkers and doers”