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PRECS Summer Research “Invaluable” to Students

Ten science-focused students from community colleges across Illinois and two other states came to Champaign recently to participate in the inaugural summer of PRECS (Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students), a research experience for undergraduates program (REU) funded by the National Science Foundation. PRECS provides community college students with authentic research experiences in the area of phenotypic plasticity, the phenomenon in which a single genotype produces multiple phenotypes depending on environment.

Our summer program started with a two-week boot camp at Parkland College on May 24. The boot camp prepared participants for the eight-week research immersion portion of the program, where students became integrated into research laboratories at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The immersion portion ran through July 26.

PRECS is different from the NSF’s other REU programs in two ways. First, although most programs include research immersion experience, it is less common to have a boot camp. Second, many REU programs are designed for undergraduates in their junior and senior years, while PRECS is specially designed to meet the needs of community college students, who may not have had any research experience and relatively few college-level science courses. In fact, as far as we can tell, PRECS is the first NSF REU in the field of biology to be open exclusively to community college students and to have a community college faculty member as one of the creators and administrators of the program.

As our program wraps up, two PRECS participants,  Elliot Ping and Aaron West, share a bit about their experiences and what they are taking away from this excellent summer opportunity (below).

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“PRECS provided a platform for growth and learning, both academically and professionally, while also providing a candid look at what it’s like to be a part of a research lab. The program has been a whirlwind of learning opportunities (including the mistakes and frustrations that often come paired with them) from start to finish. These experiences, from the outright failures to the great successes, are all good preparation for what it means to be a person in research.

An average workday for me was 9 am to 5 pm, sometimes earlier or later depending on what we were doing. If we could only get a timeslot on the confocal microscope at 8 am or at 6 pm, for example, then the day would be adjusted differently. The specific project I was working on involved a lot of downtime between steps while things ran their course, so I had the opportunity to learn other skills (like R programming and other software skills), read papers, and shadow other members of the lab.

My favorite moment was when we finally got our antibodies to work. We were at the confocal microscope doing a continuous scan to get a look at the brain tissue, and we found real colocalized staining on the sample. It felt good to see my efforts come together and to get good images of something, especially after something like two weeks of repeated failure.

This summer, I have gained more perspective about science as an institution than I gathered through the entire course of my associate’s degree. Research is not the simple, straightforward thing many people think it to be. It is failing and trying again, or trying something else, until you get it right, and, like with most other things worth doing, it takes practice, patience, and outright stubbornness to gain the skills necessary to make success a possibility.

I will hold close to my heart for a very long time the relationships I have built and the education I have received, both formal and informal, from working and studying in the PRECS program. The opportunity to work, learn, and present, especially when coupled with the guidance of so many knowledgeable, experienced people, has been, and will likely continue to prove itself to be, utterly invaluable to my development as a student and as a professional-in-the-making in the sciences. I am so grateful to Parkland College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for working to make this opportunity for community college students possible. It has been a privilege to be involved with PRECS, and I would encourage any community college student who thinks research may be for them to look into this or other opportunities as something that can both broaden their horizons for the future and deepen their understanding and appreciation of the things they are learning in the classroom.”   — Elliot Ping

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“I am honored to have been picked to participate in PRECS (Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students). Coming from a community college located in the south suburbs of Chicago, I only had a vague sense of what being in a lab entailed. What PRECS would go on to teach me this summer is the community a lab has. Every lab is different, specializing in different fields, participating in different research.

PRECS has been a great program to participate in over the past 10 weeks. It has prepared a mindset geared toward graduate school. PRECS has exposed me to real-world scientific practices, and stresses. PRECS gave me a true experience, exposing me to what my life would be like after graduating with my bachelor’s degree. I feel more prepared moving forward with my education. Whether I go on to continue scientific research or not is not foreseen, but I know that it is a viable option.” — Aaron West

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For more information about PRECS, visit precs.igb.illinois.edu.

[C. Britt Carlson, PhD, is an associate professor of chemistry in the  Natural Sciences department at Parkland College.]

Personal Safety Reminders

Our campus and local community continue to feel the impact of missing UIUC visiting scholar Yingying Zhang, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, and loved ones.

This week’s post serves as a reminder of personal safety tips and habits that can help keep you from becoming a victim. We would like to note that you are not to blame if someone commits a crime against you; however, there are several steps you can take to safeguard against being victimized. Today’s set of tips is broken into two categories, communication and awareness. Both are important elements that work together to keep you safe.

Communication

Make sure someone knows where you’re coming from, where you’re going, and when you’re supposed to get there. This is particularly important if you’re going out to a bar or a party for the night, but can also be a good practice to generally incorporate. This person can be a roommate, friend, significant other, or relative.

Call the police. Police officers get paid to investigate suspicious circumstances. If something happens to you, or you see something that seems out of the ordinary or suspicious, pick up the phone and call. You’re not inconveniencing anyone. It’s our job, and it’s what we get paid to do.

Awareness

Recognize when you’re in a situation where someone is more likely to target you. This can be when you’re standing at an ATM, walking alone on a dark sidewalk/path at night, or fumbling with your keys before you get into your vehicle or enter your apartment. Keep an eye out for anything suspicious, and if something doesn’t look or feel right, consider choosing a different route, finding a public area, or possibly calling the police.

It’s also important to think critically about situations you’re presented with. When you’re at a party or a bar, be cautious about accepting drinks that you haven’t seen prepared. If someone asks you for help that requires you to get into a vehicle or enter a house or apartment, that should definitely set off some red flags in your mind.

No one wants to live their lives dominated by fear, and that’s not what we’re suggesting. Despite the sense that social media and the daily headlines may give you, it’s ultimately not very likely that you’re going to be the victim of a serious crime. Nevertheless, there are simple, relatively unobtrusive steps you can take to further drive those odds down. If we all work together to take a little better care of ourselves and each other, hopefully we can avoid the next tragedy.

 

[Ben Boltinghouse is a public safety officer with Parkland College.]

Ford ASSET Student Earns Gold at SkillsUSA

**UPDATE! Jacob won gold at the national competition!**

Parkland College Ford ASSET program‘s Jacob Greene will soon represent the state of Illinois in automotive service technology excellence after winning gold at the SkillsUSA Illinois Championship in Springfield late last month.

The freshman and 2016 Litchfield High School graduate is ready to compete with about 6,000 other state contest winners at the SkillsUSA National Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, June 19-23. More than 16,000 people are expected to attend this exciting week of competition in career and technical education.

Upon graduation from Parkland College, Jacob has the opportunity to become fully certified as a Ford technician with an associate’s degree in automotive technology. As part of his program at Parkland, Jacob will have had over 32 weeks of hands-on training at his sponsoring Ford dealership, Victory Lane Ford in Litchfield.

Jacob’s high school automotive instructor, Eric Gray, and his Parkland Ford ASSET instructor, Thomas Fischer, are both 2008 graduates of Parkland’s Ford ASSET program! Fischer, a Mahomet resident, serves as Jacob’s SkillsUSA advisor.

Congratulations, Jacob! Parkland is proud of your accomplishments and wishes you great success at Nationals!

Parkland, Lewis U.: New Flight Transfer Accord

Parkland College Aviation graduates have gained a new bachelor’s degree opportunity through Lewis University.

Representatives of Lewis University and the Institute of Aviation at Parkland College signed an articulation agreement Feb. 3 at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.

This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to continue their studies and complement their flight training in other aviation fields.

The agreement allows Parkland graduates the opportunity to transfer into one of Lewis University’s seven aviation undergraduate programs to complete a bachelor’s degree. These programs include Aviation Administration, Aviation and Aerospace technology, Aviation Maintenance Management, Air Traffic Control Management, Aviation Flight Management, Transportation Administration, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

Dr. Stephany Schlachter, provost of Lewis University, said his school “welcomes graduates of Parkland College as they continue on their flight path to success.”

Lewis University has the oldest aviation program among universities in Illinois. It is the only aviation program in the state that has an airport on campus. The university also offers a graduate degree in Aviation and Transportation on campus and online.

 

Racing Toward a Bright Future

Parkland graduate Kyle Bemount is going places, FAST! Bemount, who earned his associate’s degree in Industrial Technology in 2011, is making a name for himself, both in racing circles and through the efforts of his business, Bemount Performance. I recently caught up with him and we talked about his experiences at Parkland, including his role as a part-time instructor, in addition to his ventures outside of school.

 

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T: What did you study at Parkland?
K: I originally enrolled in the Industrial Technology program at Parkland in the fall of 2008, right after I got out of the Marine Corps. I wanted to do welding and fabricating and that sort of thing. I had some hands-on experience and liked it, so I wanted to further educate myself.

T:  Thank you for your service! Where did your degree in Industrial Technology lead you?
K: While I was earning that degree, I also worked pretty much full time at my stepdad’s shop, painting and fabricating. When I graduated, I used the tools I learned and kept heading in that direction. I had never really given motorsports a chance to reach out and grab me. Then, Parkland built the new facility, and I was here for a car show and thought maybe it was worth checking out. I scheduled a meeting with Jon (Ross, director of the automotive program) and he gave me all the information I needed. I liked what he had to say, so I decided to try for another degree in Automotive Motorsport technology.

T: Where did your interests outside of Parkland take you?
K: I finished the motorsport classes, and it was a year ago, almost to the day, that I made the decision to open my own business. I do have a passion for working on cars and making them go faster, and working on FRIENDS’ cars especially is what has led me to this! Last October, I moved to a shop in Champaign, at 4102 Colleen Drive off of Staley Road.

T: Did your Industrial Technology training come together with the auto training?
K: It all kind of pieced the puzzle together. You might have previous car experience or have a relationship with someone who taught you about cars, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I had it too; I was already into cars and I had a fast vehicle, but there were a lot of gaps. I would be in class with Jon going over wheels and tires or brakes and suspension or something, and I would think I knew it, but by the end of class, I’d be like, “I didn’t know ANYTHING about that!” Parkland’s instruction bridges a lot of gaps for people who haven’t been taught in a structured manner like a classroom environment. You aren’t going to get that know-how by working on one specific vehicle. Here, you’re taught that this is how they all work and the situation dictates which one you can use it on.

T: You get a good, broad understanding of why this works, and that can help you diagnose whatever rolls into your shop?
K: Exactly. You need to crawl before you can walk. A lot of times, I ran before I even walked! I went right into it and did it. I got lucky and made it work, but if someone asked me a generic question about it, I might know the answer. Now, I try to be more able to find you a basic answer.

T: Was your Marine Corps training related to mechanics at all?
K: In no way, shape or form! I was an infantry marine.

T: You were a ground pounder?
K: I did infantry and security work. I had an option to become a police officer when I got out, but I really didn’t want to do it. I wanted to do something I was really passionate about.

T: You’ve started Bemount Performance, and from that the race car came about?
K: I actually bought that car when I was still stationed in Okinawa. I had my mom go to Missouri and pick it up. I had it for months before I even saw it! I had it all through industrial tech school, all through my motorsport classes.

T: What car are we talking about here?
K: It’s a 2000 Trans Am with a WS6. It has undergone multiple surgeries to become what it is now! Every winter, it gets some new “go fast” parts. It’s a 4-way LS motor with a Garrett 5594 turbo. It’s a pretty quick car. It’s been as fast as 8.35 in the quarter mile, at 168 miles an hour.

T: Is it a pro stock drag car? What classification is it?
K: It drives on the road more than it is on the track, so it’s a street class.

T: What advice would you give someone interested in chasing the dream of opening their own business?
K: To be honest with you, it was totally terrifying. I went from having a 40-hour-a-week job that makes decent money and was very secure and we had a certain living standard, and we realized that it was all about to change. I had a good feeling about it and I had backing from a couple of friends, so I didn’t have that concern.

T: What do you think about a nontraditional student coming back to Parkland? What sort of advice would you give that person?
K: You can always come back to Parkland. I’ve wanted to come back and do the upholstery class. It’s not really a part of what I do, I consider myself a go-fast guy, but nevertheless it’s a part of the world that I know zero about and that bothers me. You’re never too good to come back and learn. Technology evolves. I’m always wanting to learn.

T: Where did you go to high school?
K: I went to Rantoul. I had a fantastic shop teacher named Bill Wiley. Mr. Wiley actually made me interested in automotive. He was hands down the best shop teacher ever. He was very straightforward, but not by the book at all. He helped me out a ton.

T: Do you to build race cars for other people?
K: I do turbo kits, exhaust work, plumbing work, brake kits, and brake lines. I do almost anything, even build motors. My business is almost 100 percent building race cars. When I was starting out, I was as nervous as I could be and I took in jobs that had nothing to do with performance, just because I had to pay bills. Now, I don’t take in a job that doesn’t at least spark my interest or is a specialty of mine in the performance world. I very much try to stay to my field. I don’t want someone bringing their hundred-thousand-dollar race car into my shop and seeing a minivan on one of my racks.

T: What you would like to add?
K: I can’t emphasize taking classes enough. I love helping people out. This past fall, we took nine students to the track for the first time and after they had run down the track, they were grinning from ear to ear. To bring nine new guys into the thing you love is big to me. I want to show students that this is the right way to do it. That’s the big payoff.

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[To get started finishing your degree, contact Tony Hooker with the Parkland College Adult Re-entry Center at ahooker@parkland.edu or 217/351-2462.]