My Community College Experience

When I graduated from high school I wanted to be a doctor. Little did I know that within 5 years I would be pursuing a doctorate in biology and not in medicine. My high school GPA was not outstanding, and I estimate that I graduated in the top 35% of my class. My SAT score was 1000 and I was not fortunate enough to receive any scholarships or grants for college. My parents could afford to help me with tuition at a 4-year university, but somehow they knew that I was not quite ready, so they sent me to community college instead. My father had earned his bachelor?s degree from a university and thought from personal experience that I would benefit from taking all the core courses at community college first. Surprise: He and my mother were right!

For my first semester, I had a 4.0 GPA. I had never earned straight A?s before and I was on cloud nine. My first semester grades made me realize that with just a little effort, I could really do well in college and maybe even go to medical school. I learned how to study when I started attending college and those good study habits helped keep me on track. However, my next semester grounded me.

I took a precalculus course and the second part of basic history. I failed the math class and was given a C for the history course. Those experiences left me wiser and continue to help me through college. I found myself playing catch-up because I could not keep up with the professor. I should have dropped the course, but my stubborn pride kicked in and I tried to stick it out. In my experience, if you do poorly on the first test and are constantly playing catch-up in a class, then something is very wrong and you should seriously consider giving it another try next semester. I was not mentally ready for precalculus. As for the C in the history class, that was purely a result of the professor?s tastes because I aced the first part with another professor and had just taken a difficult english/critical writing course and earned A?s in both. In my opinion, that history professor just did not like my writing style and gave me a C. What I learned from that class is that the difference between professors is like night and day. They are extremely variable and it is not easy to find those that are completely in tune to you. They all teach, test, and grade differently. The best thing to do is feel them out and learn to tune in to them.

For the next year, including one summer semester, I brought my GPA back up to a 4.0. I also began to realize that I should stand out in my classes. I was usually very quiet and never willing to share my opinions. I was afraid that what I had to say was not good enough. Many critical writing and literature courses require class discussion and I soon realized that what I had to say was worthy of being heard. Once I started talking, my professors started taking notice of me. To this day, a few of my professors from community college remember me and that feels great. I finally enrolled in the precalculus a second time with a different professor and earned a B. I also took a physiology and anatomy class. The professor was fantastic. I was one of his top students and he helped me get accepted into a summer program that was designed to help community college students make the transition to a 4-year university.

One day, I was given a flyer about a Summer Bridges program describing a joint venture between El Paso Community College and the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP). All I knew about the program was that I would be paid $2000 for the summer to conduct research in the biology department at UTEP. I was planning on transferring to the university that fall so I needed extra money to help pay for tuition. I filled out the application, wrote a little essay, and asked my physiology and anatomy professor to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. He was happy to help, and a few weeks later I was accepted.

I soon discovered that I was expected to work with one of the biology professors at UTEP. I chose to work with an aquatic toxicologist. I was paired up with another Bridges student and we worked on two projects. We examined the response of rotifers (freshwater, microscopic invertebrates) to endocrine disruptors and we explored the best possible diet for fathead minnows. I learned a tremendous amount in those three short months, and in the end, I changed my mind about becoming a medical doctor. I decided that I would pursue a doctorate of biology and become a college professor.

I fell in love with biological research and am currently finishing my B.S. in biology. I plan on graduating in 2003 and moving on to graduate school, where I will work towards earning my Ph.D.!

For further information, please send e-mail to Raquel at

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