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Briana Pomales stand smiling in a chemistry classroom

A Project on the DNA of Bees Opened Up Research Career for Pima Alum

Briana Pomales started her research on the DNA and migratory patterns of bees at Pima. Today, she is a research assistant and peer mentor at the University of Arizona.

For Briana Pomales, an unexpected research project about the DNA patterns of bees changed her life.

In Fall 2019, Pomales participated in a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) project in her Pima biology class. She identified bees using their DNA and provided information about new DNA findings to researchers at the University of Arizona and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. She also co-authored a publication in Bold System about the implications of her research.

The CURE project Pomales participated in was funded by Pima's National Science Foundation-Hispanic Serving Institution (NSF-HSI) grant. CUREs are considered a best-teaching practice for STEM courses because they connect students with real-world research skills and projects.

Briana Pomales stans next to a centrifuge in a chem classroom

This NSF-HSI grant was particularly meaningful to Pima students as it was designed to fund CURE projects at a two-year, Hispanic Serving Institution to support diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM research.

The CURE project proved to be transformational for Pomales. She is now a chemistry major at the University of Arizona (UA) and works as a peer mentor helping other UA students conduct research on the migratory patterns of bees.

While her professional journey continues at the UA, Pomales is grateful for the start she got at Pima.

“Coming to Pima was the best decision I’ve ever made,” shared Pomales.

“Without Pima, I wouldn’t have the experience or resume I have now. I was able to build up my professional experience that has helped me get to where I am today,” she continued.

Cutting-Edge Research at Pima

After graduating from Sahuaro High School, Pomales received a scholarship to attend Pima. As part of maintaining the scholarship, she joined the honors program and Phi Theta Kappa, which connected her with other resources and opportunities at the College.

“There are so many hidden resources at Pima that helped me get involved and find ways to not only grow in my academics, but also develop future career skills like public speaking,” said Pomales.

"Without Pima, I wouldn’t have the experience or resume I have now."~ Briana Pomales

Yet, it was the biology course Pomales took with Pima biology faculty member Dr. Jennifer Katcher that exposed her to a world of professional research opportunities.

After she completed the course and her research tracking the DNA patterns of bees, Pomales volunteered with University of Arizona Professor Wendy Moore’s research on using heat maps to monitor the migration patterns of bees.

That volunteer position led to Pomales’ continued work with Dr. Moore, now as a UA student and peer mentor.

Her research participation also led to scholarships to attend and conduct research at the UA through the Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program, where students can earn money or college credit by working on research projects for multiple semesters. Pomales is a part of the VIP program and will continue to be paid for her research until she graduates with her bachelor’s degree in 2023.

"Students are doing real research – their results are used by researchers at the U of A and the Arizona Somora Desert Museum. The researchers interact with the students during the semester and the students work very carefully to ensure they contribute the best results possible" says Dr. Katcher.

On top of continuing her work in biology, Pomales is exploring new research in organic chemistry. She is currently working on a project with UA faculty about medicinal plants and plans to pursue organic chemistry research in the future.

“I wouldn’t be here without Pima,” shared Pomales.

“I wish more students considered Pima as an option. There are so many resources available and opportunities I never could have imagined for myself. It was the start of everything,” she continued.

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