Summer chemistry program at PBSC leads to new opportunity for aspiring doctor
Palm Beach State College graduate Isabella Donadio Pizzolato has been accepted into a scientific research program at Florida Atlantic University, and she credits a chemistry initiative launched at PBSC this summer with helping her make the leap.
Instead of relaxing on the beach or doing other things, Pizzolato enrolled in Basic Chemistry Application and Research Training, a six-week program on the Boca Raton campus. Guided by PBSC science department specialists Kat Huang and Meaghan Janiak, she learned how to extract caffeine from green tea and make soap as part of projects to hone her research skills.
During the initiative, she learned about and applied to FAU’s T-Learn program, a learning community established in 2016. It focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics students’ academic success. Only 34 first-year transfer students were chosen out of 126 applicants this year, and participants will gain hands-on experience in research.
“I think this program (at PBSC) made a difference in my acceptance. I am just so happy about it,’’ said Pizzolato, an international student from Brazil whose goal is become a surgeon and researcher. She noted that during her interview for T-Learn, she discussed the research she was doing at PBSC.
The summer program is the result of a five-year $1.5 million Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Grant PBSC received in 2019 from the National Science Foundation. It was used to develop the College’s STEM Articulation and Transfer Collaborative. The goal is to provide additional support for minority STEM students, particularly Hispanic students, and ultimately help diversify the STEM workforce. With the grant, PBSC has implemented intervention initiatives, cultural experiences as well as appreciative advising to help students graduate and matriculate into FAU’s College of Science, said Vincent Price, program grant manager.
“Students who attend a community college tend to do well in their STEM classes. However, when they get to the university a lot of them do not do as well as they did at the community and state colleges,’’ Price said. “We’re trying to think of strategies that will help them have a stronger foundation.”
Students ended the Boca Raton program with presentations of their summer projects and virtual tours of Scripps Research Institute and Max Planck, both partners in the effort.
In addition to the chemistry program at the Boca Raton campus and another one focused on biology at the Palm Beach Gardens campus, Price said the College also launched Chemistry Jump Start on the Lake Worth campus this summer. The boot camp-style program gives interested students an introduction in the summer to Chemistry 1045, their first hardcore chemistry class. This past spring, the College also held a six-week molecular biology program at the Palm Beach Gardens campus.
Participation in the program may help students transfer, and it will give them an advantage over their peers because of the research they conduct. “They will already have a solid foundation,’’ Price said. “A lot of students want to do research and finding out where to get started is already a mission itself.”
Price said the program is free to students, but they have to have the desire to get involved.
“There were no incentives besides just wanting to better themselves — no stipends and no lunches.”
Pizzolato, who earned her Associate in Arts degree in December 2020, said she appreciates the opportunity. She was accepted into several universities in and outside of Florida, but cost was a factor in her decision.
“Tuition for international students was crazy and unrealistic,’’ said Pizzolato, who was a member of the Dr. Floyd F. Koch Honors College, Phi Theta Kappa honor society and past president of the Medical Professions Association at PBSC. “I saw they (FAU) have a really good medical program and tuition is more affordable.”
With the summer program at PBSC and now the T-Learn program at FAU, she is excited about her direction.
“I really love Palm Beach State College. It has helped me in so many ways,” she said. “I was saving money to transfer. I was really happy they chose me to be there. I love helping people. I always try to help the way I can. I think being a doctor would give me more tools to help even more.”