Community College Science Students Are More Than an ‘Untapped Resource’

When I worked in industry, I helped review resumes for potential new research associates. We often looked for fresh-out-of-college candidates who had worked in a lab for at least a year, and finding them wasn’t easy. Students would pad their CVs with tales of “experience” that turned out to be nothing more than an assigned lab section for a course. “I have extensive hands-on experience in the research area of Labs 1 through 6 and real-world applications like Homework Questions 18-25 Due Monday” wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. After all, there are a lot of nuances that come with real lab work, and it was safer if someone had experienced those nuances before we turned them loose in our facility.

So I was pleasantly surprised recently when I spoke at a conference where most of the students had spent a full 2 years working in a lab—an impressive amount of experience for any undergraduate. They presented their work on well-crafted posters, gave interesting talks about their research, and generally seemed thrilled to spend their Saturday this way.

Part of why it was a surprise—though in hindsight maybe it shouldn’t have been—is that the conference was exclusively for community college students. And I was reminded that the focus of many community college programs is learning real, literal skills—which is exactly what many employers are (or maybe should be) looking for.

I’ve spoken at many events for STEM students, but this was the first time I’d spoken to a group specifically representing community colleges. And now I know why: During the opening remarks, the conference’s co-chair noted that the Maryland Collegiate STEM Conference is the only conference of its kind for community college students in any U.S. state.

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