SUNY Sullivan Sophomore / Bridges to Baccalaureate Program Student Honored At National Biomed Conference

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Maria Janvier started her community college career at SUNY Dutchess and transferred to SUNY Sullivan for the smaller class sizes and one-on-one interaction it allowed with her professors. Originally, Maria came to Sullivan as a candidate for the nursing program, but decided to begin studying in the liberal arts and health science areas while she waited.

A friend with experience in the Bridges to Baccalaureate program introduced her to the idea of applying herself. Although she admits to feeling “a little insecure about not having the proper background” for the program, her interest in science and the encouragement of SUNY Sullivan Bridges program coordinator Kathryn Scullion convinced her to go for it.

Maria joined students from five other schools besides Sullivan on the campus of SUNY Purchase for the Bridges to Baccalaureate program. Each of the students was carrying out different projects, and at the end of the day they would get together to talk about their research and share what was going on in their individual experiences of the program. The 5-week Bridges program culminates in a symposium where students present their findings.

Not only did Maria apply, she was accepted. And not only was she accepted, but her research during the Bridges program (a study of cognitive ability in bilinguals) was so successful that she was invited to participate in the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in San Jose (CA) this past November. As if that weren’t enough – Maria was recognized as one of the outstanding participants.

So, let’s meet Maria Janvier – a SUNY Sullivan sophomore with great drive and enthusiasm, a clear vision for her own future, and an outstanding Bridges to Baccalaureate success story!

But… before we do that! When you decide it’s time to give the Bridges to Baccalaureate program a try, you can get all the info, encouragement, and application materials you need from program coordinator, Kathryn Scullion! Call or email her at (845) 434-5750, extension 4447, or kscullion@sunysullivan.edu.

SUNY SULLIVAN: Where are you from?
MARIA JANVIER: Originally from Haiti. I immigrated here about 6 years ago. I went to High School back in Haiti, came here and went straight to college.

SS: That must have been some transition.
MJ: I did not speak any English, so my first two years in college were kind of like a roller coaster, because I could not really understand everything that they were saying.

SS: I hear you weren’t immediately keen to the idea of applying for the Bridges program.
MJ: I got my application in the last day that it was due, because really I didn’t want to do it! I had never lived on campus and I had to be at Purchase for five weeks, living on campus and having roommates. I was a little freaked out!

But, [the program organizers] did a great job of putting roommates together. None of my roommates had ever lived on a campus before, so it was a new experience for all three of us. It was a very good experience right from the beginning.

SS: Did you know anything about your research topic when you started?
MJ: When I started there, I was meeting the faculty, staff, getting around the college, and getting to know everybody; I didn’t have any idea about what I was going to do.

My professor started talking and I looked at her like she had five heads. She gave me all these articles to read, with all these scientific terms I’d never heard before. So I had to read them and Google words at the same time to understand what they were saying. My professor was very patient and, since it was a small group, I got plenty of one-on-one time with her. She explained to me in more detail what she was going to do.

SS: And your original topic of research was?
MJ: I chose to do my research on EEG, Electroencephalography, because it had something to do with the brain. I picked it because I am more into healthcare and science.

There were five [students] in the lab and it started getting really interesting when we started hooking people up to the EEG, getting them tested, reading brainwaves through the computer and collecting and analyzing data.

SS: You’ve mentioned programming different tasks for your subjects to do while hooked up to the EEG. What was that about?
MJ: My research was basically trying to see if bilinguals have any advantage when it comes to cognitive ability. We were trying to see if cognition with linguistics could transfer to cognitive ability – if you were bilingual, would you be able to perform two tasks at the same time and be accurate at both of them.

SS: What did you find?
MJ: We did find that there was some connection, but not really strong enough. Previous studies have shown that there is an advantage in young children and older adults. We did our study in young adults, and we didn’t really find a connection. But, we think it is because our sample size was too small. We didn’t have enough time to collect enough data, but we did find that when we gave bilinguals different tasks versus monolinguals, they were responding slower but more accurately. Monolinguals were responding faster, but it didn’t mean that their responses were more accurate. They were just responding faster because the tasks were given in English (their primary language).

Bilinguals had to take time to process the information and understand it before they responded. That’s why it takes them longer to respond, but that’s also why they were more accurate. We believe it happened because they are constantly switching between languages in their brain.

SS: And you have personal experience with this too, correct?
MJ: I am basically trilingual, and if I am speaking to you I have to think about who I am speaking to before I know which language to use. I’m constantly switching the languages in my brain when I’m at home, because my mother doesn’t speak much English. My brothers do, so when I’m having a conversation with both of them, it will start in Creole, and then to some French, and ends up in English. My father speaks Spanish, so sometimes I throw a little of that in too.

SS: After the research at Purchase, you got quite an invitation!
MJ: Through that research, I was nominated to go to ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students) in San Jose, CA.

SS: Tell us about the convention experience!
MJ: At that convention we had about 1600 students from about 150 different schools, including Harvard, Yale. Most of them were seniors and juniors – not many sophomores. That kind of intimidated me a little bit. When I started talking with them and they told me: “yeah, I did my research for my senior project,” and that they had a whole year. Others said, “I had three months; I had five months,” and told me they hadn’t even finished yet. I only had five weeks!

I was like, okay, well what kind of research were they doing that took that long? Because I did mine in five weeks and I completed it – I had results, I had the data and everything. So I was intimidated; worried that my research might not be as good because I was the one who had less time.

SS: And that certainly turned out NOT to be the case. Maria was recognized with an award at ABRCMS for her research. You can read about that impressive detail here:

http://www.purchase.edu/RMS/News.aspx?EID=207

SS: What is something the Bridges program offered you that you found particularly attractive?
MJ: Usually you go to school, and you’re paying to go to school. This program is paying you to go to school. You get credits and you’re not paying to get the knowledge, they’re paying you.

Also, you gain skills that you can use. I didn’t know anything about EEGs, but after the program I got a certificate that proves I can now work for a neural surgeon, hooking up patients to an EEG. That’s a skill I learned during those five weeks. You get these skills, but you get paid to learn it.

But it’s not just about the money; it’s about knowledge, increasing your understanding and your knowledge.

SS: What are your plans for the future?
MJ: My thing was, I just need to get my nursing degree and get it over with, but going to that conference made me think about getting my PhD.

My mother always wanted me to be a doctor, I might as well get a PhD and just call me doctor [laughs]. I don’t have to be a medical doctor, but if I have the doctor in my name, she will be happy with that.

[ABRCMS] kind of changed my whole way of seeing my career. There is more out there in the healthcare field that can still change people’s lives – which is why I wanted to do nursing, so I could go in and help out to change people’s lives.

I got to meet with Dr. Susan Blumenthal – she is a medical doctor and also has her Master’s in Public Health. She works with the government in military recruitment and also does research. So, I’m thinking, okay, I can probably get my PhD in Public Health. Then I can access health policy, I can make changes, add new things, and probably come up with new rules.

This was all thanks to ABRCMS – actually, to the Bridges program, which got me to ABRCMS.

SS: Did Bridges teach you anything non-academic?
MJ: I was someone who was very stubborn, and I like to do things my own way. There were all kinds of activities that we did [at Purchase], like canoeing and hiking, and I was the first one to say no to all of that. But, I became the one who loves all of that more than anyone else. That brought out that other part of me that I didn’t know I had.

Usually, I’m kind of by myself – I would not go to you unless you came to me. That’s how I used to be! Now, from this program, I am able to talk to people, I increased my social skills, and I’m not afraid to do things that I’m not used to doing. I’m not afraid to get out of my comfort zone, and it’s all because of this program.

All of us came out of that program with great experience and knowledge that we didn’t have before. And also, I have students now from other community colleges who are my friends. And, they were from Haiti too, I didn’t even know it. So, I have more friends because I got into the program.

SS: Give the students out there who might be on the fence about doing Bridges, one final pitch!
MJ: I encourage everybody I know to go. It’s five weeks of your time, and what you can get in that five weeks could [otherwise] take you a lifetime – a whole career!

Next year, Maria hopes to transfer to a school with a program in Public Health, Community Health, or even Health Service Management. She is applying to both Hunter College and Berkeley, with others in mind as well.