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NIH-funded Program Gives Tyler Students Opportunity to Explore Scientific Research

Posted on January 31, 2019

Alexandra Batts

By Holly Walker

Alexandra Batts finds comfort in science. As a child, she often found herself scared of the unknown, but she discovered those fears could be eased when she understood the why and how. It is that desire for answers that inspired her to pursue an education in science. Already familiar with John Tyler Community College, thanks to dual enrollment classes she took while at Petersburg High School, Alexandra decided to enter the college’s General Studies, Science Specialization associate degree program. One day, while in a biology class, she learned about Tyler’s partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Bridges to the Baccalaureate: Dream-to-Goal (DTG) Summer Research Program and was immediately intrigued.
The DTG Program, designed to encourage more diversity in the fields of biomedical and behavioral science and to help students prepare for the transition to a four-year university, gives students at Tyler and Thomas Nelson Community College the opportunity to participate in a two-year summer research program. Students selected for the program spend eight weeks each summer at VCU, living in the university’s dorms and immersing themselves in science. In the first summer, they learn basic laboratory and molecular biology techniques in a Biology Boot Camp and then work as research interns in the laboratory of a VCU researcher. In the second summer, they conduct an independent research project in their mentors’ labs. Participants present posters on their research at both the Virginia Academy of Science annual meeting and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). 

“This paid program is a rare opportunity for under-resourced Tyler students to have a real-world research experience before they transfer to a four-year institution,” says Dr. Shijian Chu, associate professor of biology at Tyler and an investigator on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that funds the DTG Program. “They will be working with top biomedical and behavioral scientists at VCU on their own projects. This experience also will be helpful in students' career decisions. In addition, it will teach them how to navigate campus life while living on campus.” 

Alexandra applied, was accepted into the program, and spent summer 2018 at VCU. During that time, she learned new skills; worked on a research project titled, “Fear Conditioning in Typically-Developing Twins: The Screaming Lady Task;” and presented a scientific poster on the project. “The Bridges Program is an experience I do not think I could get anywhere else,” says Alexandra. She says it is introducing her to what it’s like to work as a scientist and is helping her realize the areas of research she’d like to explore. “It also has shown me how hard I need to work and the benefits of that work,” says Alexandra. In addition, she says it’s giving her an understanding of how to transition from a two-year college to a four-year university. Alexandra is excited about the second summer of the program and says she looks forward to transferring to VCU after graduating from Tyler.

The VCU Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program recently received a 2019 “Programs That Work” Award from the Virginia Mathematics and Sciences Coalition.  

The DTG Summer Research Program is now accepting applicants for the summer 2019 program. Tyler students interested in learning more about the program or who are ready to apply should visit Students are encouraged to submit their applications early. Those received by February 15 will be given priority consideration. Tyler students who have questions about the program may contact Dr. Chu at or 804-706-5120.

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Holly Walker, Public Relations Manager


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