Future Researcher Finds Her Opportunity
When Jordania Urquizo Aguilar came to the U.S. from Peru in 2018, she was seeking academic opportunity, but she spoke no English at all. This month, only three years later, she will deliver a valedictory address for the 2021 Virtual Celebration of Graduates.
“I’m excited,” says Jordania, admitting to being a little nervous, because English is not her first language, but she decided to enjoy the moment. “It will be a happy experience for me.”
Jordania received her Associate in Science degree in biology, with highest honors, last December and is now a full-scholarship student, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology, at Rutgers Newark.
Currently, she is completing at 10-week summer internship at Temple University in Philadelphia. The demanding internship was awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates and requires Jordania to work full-time, Monday through Friday, with a mentor, on a computational biochemistry project researching protein structure sequence.
“It’s very interesting. I’m learning new things, and this will really give me an advantage,” explains Jordania. Though she has not had time to explore much of Philadelphia, the research intern is pleased with her university environment. “Temple is a nice, big, beautiful campus,” she says.
Last January, Jordania completed an online workshop focused on research techniques. Her project was about wild animals, specifically the activity of penguins.
These are the kind of experiences Jordania hoped for when she left Peru and her parents and two sisters in search of more academic opportunities. She stayed with her aunt in Paterson and enrolled at PCCC in the summer of 2018 as an ESL (English-as-a-Second Language) student.
“The ESL Department helped me a lot,” says Jordania. Though she felt lost at first, she said her professors provided the support she needed. “Professor (Kathy) Kelly was amazing and very patient.”
Jordania also found guidance and opportunity through the B2B Club at PCCC whose members are largely minority students receiving support and opportunity through programs sponsored by the Bridges to Baccalaureate Alliance, a group of academic institutions that assist underrepresented minority students in successfully transferring into a baccalaureate STEM (Science, Technology,Engineering, Math) degree program.
“I really liked the B2B Club,” says Jordania. She appreciates the support from science professors Kala Mayur, who motivated her to apply for internships, and Thom van Aken, the B2B project director for Northern New Jersey.
“They are a good team,” notes Jordania. “They really care about students and provide so much encouragement.”
As a member of the Honors Program, which offers high-achieving students the opportunity to work in a more rigorous curriculum, Jordania had to produce extensive research papers for each of her honors classes, in addition to all her other academic responsibilities. “The Honors Program was a big challenge,” she said, “but challenge is critical. That’s what helps you go forward.”
Jordania is looking toward a career in scientific research, but with a growing resume of experiences to draw upon, she has not yet decided what her specific research area will be.
One thing is certain. Jordania found the opportunity she was looking for.