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STEM Pathways at City College

October 11, 2022

For those with interests in nature, living organisms, human anatomy, sustainability, and health can find an abundance of opportunity at San Diego City College. The college’s department of Life Sciences fosters an inclusive environment for students to grow within a diverse community of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals.

“Our students are hungry to learn, they are excellent candidates for anything they want to achieve and will excel when given the opportunity,” said Heather McGray, Ph.D., associate professor of Biology. “Most universities cannot commit to first- and second-year biology students because of how few of them succeed in a rigorous science major.”

In contrast, the community college environment is dedicated to the success of first and second year STEM students. At City College, students are in a classroom with 24-30 of their peers compared to a university that can have five hundred undergraduates to one professor in a lecture hall.

“Although many STEM students at the community college level can lack resume experience in labs due to not having access to biology labs or research faculty, we are proud to offer these opportunities at City College through special funding and partnerships,” Dr. McGray said. “When a student can get involved early on, especially in STEM, it's invaluable to their transfer process and in their career.”

City College aims to diversify the STEM fields by removing barriers for Latinx/Chicanx and low-income students. Among the highlights in the School of Mathematics, Science, and Nursing are state-of-the-art learning labs, the MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement) program, San Diego State University (SDSU) STEM Pathways Program funded by Department of Education HSI STEM Title 3, and a University of California San Diego (UCSD) Partnership: San Diego Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Institute of General Medical Science (NIGMS).

The university partnerships have provided research and fellowship opportunities for City College students, including biology major Sherlyn Sanchez, bioengineering major Ariana Vasquez, biology major Lisa Trevino, bioengineering major Isabel Espinoza, and biology major Carissa Young — an all Latinx female group of promising early career scientists.

While a student at City College, Sanchez participated in a fellowship program, ‘Developing Future Biologists with the University of Michigan and EMBOC program with the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.’ The fellowship was a proud achievement for Sanchez, a first-generation college student with a passion for nature and human quality of life. “English is my second language; I grew up in a Mexican household and spoke Spanish most of the time. No one in my family had experience with going to college,” Sanchez said. “The MESA Program and EOPS at City College really helped me define my future. I learned what it meant to be a student at City College and how to do well.” Sanchez transferred to UCSD in fall 2022.

The IRACDA program selected Vasquez, Trevino, and Espinoza for summer research at UCSD, a program that provides three years of mentored training in post-doctoral research in biomedical sciences, teaching training, and development of critical academic skills needed to conduct high quality research. In addition, Young was the only community college student selected to participate in a prestigious neurobiology fellowship at Janssen Pharmaceuticals in La Jolla.

“Watching our students present their research, I believe there really is no difference between them and ivy league scholars,” said Dr. McGray, who earned a doctorate in biological sciences from the University of California, Irvine and was named a 2021-22 Biology Education Intersegmental Collaborative Fellow.

City College will open applications for paid summer research opportunities at SDSU in spring 2023. The program includes guaranteed transfer to SDSU, a City College mentor, a SDSU mentor, a program coordinator, academic support for transfer, and a peer mentor at SDSU.



Established in 1914, San Diego City College serves as the educational cornerstone of downtown San Diego. A 60-acre urban campus, City College serves more than 13,000 students a semester, offering 200 majors and degrees and 1,800 classes. City College is part of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD), one of the largest of California’s 73 community college districts, which also includes Mesa College, Miramar College, and the College of Continuing Education. For more information, visit

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