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Dr. Claudia Curry, director of the Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Center and conference co-chair, welcomes participants to the 2016 Women’s Leadership Conference at Community College of Philadelphia. The theme of the conference, “Opportunities: Recognize, Maximize and Capitalize,” made for fascinating panel discussions and networking opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members. Imzadi Davis (also pictured), a mass media major at the College and member of The Vanguard staff, served as mistress of ceremonies.

Alumni Mixer

Karen E Nelson

Dr. Karen E. Nelson’s social-good science knows no bounds. A microbiologist whose research may one day allow doctors to match medical care to an individual’s genetic code, Nelson’s ground-breaking research has had a global impact — and it could change how people live their lives.

Her passion as a scientist is only matched by her desire to direct more students on the road to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers. Nelson, president of the renowned J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) and a leader in the National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project (HMP), tirelessly works to put more students, especially women and minorities, into the STEM pipeline — and keep them there.

“It’s great to get students into STEM, but we need to think about all aspects,” Nelson said at a breakfast meeting at Community College of Philadelphia April 22. “Creating opportunities for students is important, but also giving them the support so that they will be successful in the long term is important, too.”

Community College of Philadelphia, which is addressing the need for more STEM graduates to fill in-demand positions in Philadelphia, recognized Nelson for her research and advocacy with a cover story in its spring edition of Pathways, the College’s magazine. Nelson also met with the College’s STEM students while on campus.

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Nelson’s childhood fascination with plant life whetted her appetite for science. She eventually earned a Ph.D. at Cornell University; and led the first team ever to publish a paper on the human microbiome, a colony in the body teeming with varied species — bacteria, viruses, and fungi — all of which affect health and disease.

JCVI is already the response site for emerging infectious diseases, such as the Flu and Zika viruses, Nelson said. The goal is to enable health care providers to tailor treatments to the unique characteristics of an individual.

That’s where the social-good science comes in.

Imagine if an individual could lower their blood pressure with medication specifically tailored to their genetic background? Imagine too, if the doctors and scientists who did the work were as diverse as humans themselves? Such breakthroughs would truly be game-changers.

Diversity in the field makes good sense and good science, Nelson said.

“There are diseases that are specific to minorities and specific to women. If we don’t have advocates for those diseases, they’re not going to the attention they need,” said Nelson, who

mentors aspiring STEM leaders through JCVI’s Genomics Scholars Program, which provides hands-on learning opportunities with a focus on transitioning students from community colleges to four-year institutions. “I’ve had a great experience as a scientist. To the extent I can be a role model, that is what I want to do.”

Vice President Joe Biden and the Second Lady used Philadelphia Community College as the backdrop Monday to roll-out their push for free college tuition. The program provides $100-million in grants to expand job-training partnerships at community colleges. Vice President Joe Biden said it’s designed to extend free-tuition programs like the one at Community College of Philadelphia.

Vice President Joe Biden delivered remarks at the Community College of Philadelphia. He and his wife Jill Biden spoke Monday afternoon about the administration's efforts to make college more affordable.

Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, will announce the grant program Monday at the Community College of Philadelphia, a school that adopted the tuition-free model championed by the administration last year. Biden and his wife, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, have advocated for the model, visiting schools and hosting roundtable discussions with elected officials as well as college and business leaders.

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife visited the Community College of Philadelphia today to talk about their hope that — one day — all Americans will have access to a free community college education.

The single best way to strengthen the country is to invest in its students, Vice President Biden told a group of professors, students, and administrators at Community College of Philadelphia on Monday.

On Monday the Obama administration sought to encourage more states and communities to continue expanding tuition-free community college by unveiling a $100 million competition for America's Promise Job-Driven Training Grants. The grants were announced by Vice President Biden at the Community College of Philadelphia.

“What foods are good for your teeth and what foods are bad?”

“What if a baby was born with a tooth? Does that count as its first set of teeth?”

“What other colors can your teeth turn besides green?”

Those were just a sampling of the questions Sandi Fisher’s fifth graders posed to Theresa Grady, Dental Hygiene program director at Community College of Philadelphia, during Grady’s visit to William Cramp Elementary School, located in the city’s Fairhill neighborhood.

The student-reporters interviewed Grady as part of their school’s partnership with Healthy NewsWorks, a Philadelphia-area nonprofit program that empowers student journalists to transform the health of their communities by producing school-based health newspapers, related media and an annual book that profiles area health leaders. The College serves as one of the sponsors of the 2016 book, “Leading Healthy Change in Our Communities 2016,” which will be distributed to schools, libraries, medical offices and other community venues.

Healthy NewsWorks currently partners with 14 public and independent K-8 schools in the Philadelphia region. And, recently, Community College of Philadelphia joined its list of community health collaborators.

The partnership with Healthy NewsWorks allows the College to expand its presence with younger audiences and share the opportunities it provides. Research shows that students who work on school newspapers in high school get better grades, earn higher scores on the ACT and get better grades as college freshmen.

Healthy NewsWorks is reaching these prospective journalists at an even younger age, introducing critical thinking skills that prepare them to live, work and engage as active citizens.

Dr. Warren Hilton, Community College of Philadelphia’s dean of Enrollment Management, said the College’s partnership with Healthy NewsWorks is symbiotic as it gives the College access to Healthy NewsWorks' growing network of children and families and offers “a unique opportunity to target students who will be successful in school,” he said. “So it makes sense.”

The young journalists at Healthy NewsWorks, now in its 13th year, focus on health and wellness issues. This year’s special topic is “Healthy Smiles.” No other allied health program at the College fits that theme better than the Dental Hygiene program, which prepares its students to become oral health clinicians and educators.

The students of Cramp Elementary came to the interview with Grady well prepared, drilling her with their rapid-fire questioning. The veteran educator was right in her element, giving thoughtful replies while sharing her knowledge as an oral health professional.

The students’ eyes widened as Grady, a Community College of Philadelphia graduate, shared that, as a child, she knew she wanted to help others by becoming a dental health professional by extracting the teeth of her friends. “They had loose teeth that were bothering them,” she said. “I used a tissue and my finger. It would bleed a little but that didn’t bother me.”

The Healthy NewsWorks student interview is part of a multi-pronged, collaborative process unlike any in scholastic journalism, said Marian Uhlman, Healthy NewsWorks’ founder and director. Students start by researching the questions they will ask, and then, after interviewing the subject, work to turn out an accurate, informational news story that is of value to their class, their school and the families in their community.

"We are really excited for the opportunity to have our student reporters engage with experts from Community College of Philadelphia," Uhlman said. "The College staff and students were incredibly helpful, well-informed, and inspiring to our young reporters."

From all indications, Grady’s presentation was a huge hit. When she asked students how many were considering a career in dental hygiene, a half dozen hands shot up. Grady then invited the entire class to tour the College, its dental hygiene clinic and talk to its dental hygiene students on the spot. They did, traveling to the College in late March.

Before class was dismissed, however, a student had one final question.

“Is your job important?” the student asked Grady.

“I would like to think so, yes,” Grady replied. “Because I’m helping my students learn and helping people with their teeth. I’m a disease-fighter.”