University graduate Sarah Bongelli comes to college for hands-on learning experience

sarah-bongelliValedictorian Sarah Bongelli came to Fleming College looking for a sense of direction.

After graduating from university with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Sarah wanted to gain hands-on, real world experience through a program placement to strengthen her resume and begin a career where she could apply her love of science every day. She discovered the Biotechnology – Advanced program at Fleming College and decided it was the perfect fit.

“I am glad I went back to college, as it was challenging and provided me with more real world experience that I needed,” Sarah explained, citing mock real world exercises such as crime scene processing, court interviews, and presentations.

The Class of 2018 graduate credits the Fleming College program for helping her develop a wide range of skills that she uses every day.

“I found myself really drawing comparisons between college and university, and found that college was – in some ways – much harder than university. The hands-on experience was very valuable and that’s something that you don’t get in university,” she said.

Sarah describes her Fleming faculty as “extremely welcoming, friendly and helpful,” adding that the Sutherland Campus always has a good vibe.

“I would recommend the program, but only if you like science!” she said. “There are a lot of different avenues that you can explore after graduating and the placement is an amazing way to get your foot in the door somewhere.”

Sarah will serve as Valedictorian for the School of Health and Wellness on Thursday, June 7 at 2 p.m., as she earned the School of Health and Wellness Academic Achievement Award. This award is presented to a graduate for academic achievement and significant contribution to the Fleming College community.

“I hope that my speech inspires people to do what they love and to not be afraid of change or boundaries,” said Sarah. “Life can be tough but if you use the tools that you are given, and that you possess yourself, really anything is possible.”

Rebecca Morris leaves the Biotechnology lab at Fleming to swim with sharks in South Africa

first-sharkIt is a challenge for Rebecca Morris to choose her most memorable day on placement. She’s seen a great white shark, which “was both terrifying and exciting”; she’s watched wild whales and dolphins on the Cetacean Project, caught a pyjama shark for a genetic sampling, and swam with sharks to clean a tank at the aquarium.

“All of these were different days and equally memorable,” said Rebecca, who interned at Oceans Research in Mossel Bay, South Africa for her 15-week Biotechnology – Advanced program internship. “However the best was probably one of my last days. We were out on the boat at sunrise for the Great White Shark Study Project where, for the first time in months, we had about 14 Great Whites at the boat at one time and one big, beautiful girl jumped out of the water. Later this day while fishing, a pod of about 30 dolphins were swimming all around the boat. Our skipper slowed down so we didn’t injure any and could admire them. One particular dolphin was swimming close to the surface at the bow of the boat where I was leaning over. It was a moment that I didn’t even want a camera or my phone, all I wanted was to live the moment. It was a day I will never forget.”

This experience is something Rebecca has been working towards since ninth grade, when she accompanied her father to DOW Chemical for Take Your Kids to Work Day. “It was love at first site,” said Rebecca, who had the opportunity to observe lab work and try the equipment. “Following this, I saw the movie Deep Blue Sea and – even though it is completely inaccurate – the thought of what genetic research has the possibility of creating drew me in. Add in my love of crime shows, books and movies, it was as though the program was made for me.”

Rebecca describes Fleming’s Biotechnology – Advanced program as “tough and demanding,” but adds that “if you honestly have a love of science, it is completely worth every moment.” She credits the professors for being supportive and ensuring every student understands their instructions, and describes her classmates as amazing lifelong friends. She adds that “everyone is friendly. The staff in the cafeteria were always helpful and welcoming, and some even remembered my order at Tim Hortons!”

It was through her program coordinator at Fleming that Rebecca found the opportunity to intern in South Africa and she jumped at the chance. As the Oceans intern, Rebecca was involved with a cetacean study that monitors the behaviour of whales and dolphins, and a great white shark behavioural study that documents dorsal fin pictures for migration type purposes. “The dorsal fin has notches specific to a shark. It is exactly like matching fingerprints through a database,” she explains. Rebecca also worked with benthic sharks, smooth-hound sharks, bronze whaler sharks, and young hammerhead sharks; she helped take genetic samples, measured, tagged them with an acoustic tag, and released them.

“My experience here has been both eye-opening and amazing,” said Rebecca, who is now specialized in shark handling, certified for marine animal stranding, has learned new programs for identification and tracking, perfected fishing knots and a few sailing knots, and is learning to speak Afrikaans. “Coming to South Africa, I expected to be a little lonely and a lot homesick, but now the ocean feels like home. I’ve made some amazing friends, met the man I’m going to marry, and can’t believe how fast the time flew!”

Biotechnology student Sarina Barnes travels to Vancouver for program internship

sarina-barnesSarina Barnes decided to leave the comfort of her friends, family and Fleming College community to integrate theory and practice in a Biotechnology internship. Sarina was selected to complete her program internship at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Biotechnology – Advanced program internship in Semester 5 is designed to immerse students in the operations, processes and protocols of a DNA lab. During Sarina’s internship, she was responsible for planning and optimizing an assay that was being developed to streamline a few of the tests done by the Centre’s clinical team.

“Our BTF faculty encouraged me to pursue what I was interested in and gave me the support that I needed to pursue an internship out of province,” said Sarina of the 15 week, full-time (600 hour) placement. Fleming’s Biotechnology program internship may be implemented at approved private or public sites located locally, regionally, out-of-province or international locations.

“Living in Vancouver was a big change, but a welcomed one. I knew that I wanted to explore what the West Coast had to offer and was willing to work hard to get there,” said Sarina. “Moving away from family and friends to seek out a goal was really hard to do; it was through receiving their love and support that encouraged me as I transitioned to a new city and environment. These past four months on placement have allowed me to grow my skills exponentially and helped to define my interests. If I had to, I would do it all over again.”

Sarina, who chose to study at Fleming College because it offers automation in the Biotechnology curriculum, said her most memorable internship experience was when faculty member Lea Roque – who teaches automation – came for a site visit. “She had a one-on-one with my lab’s director, and I got to show her around the lab and talk about what I do,” said Sarina. “It was a different experience explaining what I was involved in, and really gave me a chance to demonstrate what I’ve learned and apply it back to my education.”

Sarina said she would happily recommend Fleming’s Biotechnology program to others. “It was a wonderful opportunity to gain knowledge on current topics in the field, while having lab experience to reinforce it. I cannot say enough how supportive the faculty is, inside and out of the classroom,” she said.

“The teaching style was very different from what I received at university. Things are much more hands-on, [move] more quickly, it really emphasized engagement with the material,” said Sarina on her Fleming education. “I felt that I was presented with workable knowledge to apply to the real world, which is ultimately what the industry is looking for.”

Now that her internship is complete, Sarina continues to apply her knowledge and skills at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Sarina has been hired as a Research Assistant on a one year, full-time contract at the Centre.

Biotechnology brings Bhavita Patel to the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer

bhavita-2Careers in the biotechnology field are diverse, from working in biological research to quality assurance, medical or health-related fields, to tracking down criminals or identifying victims of crime. For Bhavita Patel, biotechnology led her to help companion animals with cancer.

Bhavita, who will graduate from Fleming’s Biotechnology – Advanced program in 2017, completed her internship at the Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer at the University of Guelph in August. She said Fleming faculty connected her with the opportunity. “My program coordinator Ashvin Mohindra suggested Mona Campbell Animal Cancer Centre,” said Bhavita. “I found that they are doing really interesting work, with so many clinical trials to treat different types of cancer in companion animals.”

At her internship, Bhavita was responsible for data management related to clinical trials, which includes: assistance to the National Institute of Health – Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium (COTC), inputting confidential patient medical information into the Cancer Central Clinical Database, tracking regular visits, physical examinations, and consent forms of COTC trial patients. She also assisted with maintaining supplies for sample collection, auditing and compiling photographic images and surgery information, and more.

“I had more than six years of experience in a laboratory, but I have never done this type of data management before,” said Bhavita. “This is my first project that I am not doing in a lab; it is a totally new experience for me. I have learned many new skills while working with the ICCI (Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation) team, including attention to detail, auditing patients’ surgery data, budgeting, and maintaining accurate confidential medical records.”

Bhavita said she chose the Biotechnology – Advanced program at Fleming College because she had heard positive reviews of the program and wanted to further her education in the field. “I thought it was a really good program for students who are interested in learning about different types of diverse subjects,” she said. “I studied different types of subjects in this program, which is really helpful for students to decide their career later. They can go into any field and there is a variety of options available for them because they have knowledge about all various types of courses.”

She also appreciates the faculty support at Fleming College. “The faculty for this program are warm, friendly, kind and helpful,” said Bhavita. “They are available for guidance and help whenever required. They are making every effort to secure our better future. Apart from providing us with vast, inordinate academic knowledge, they have also supported and guided us with our placements.”