April Swanson (left) and Dallas Burgess

In December 2023, QCC Dean of Math & Science Ben Benton and Acting Dean of Business, Engineering & Technology (now Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs) Kathy Rentsch announced that 27 QCC students were recognized as STEM Students of the Fall 2023 Semester. Below are profiles of a group of these students, sharing stories of their journey on the road to achieving student success. Congratulations to all!

April Swanson – selected by Biology Program Coordinator Professor Jessica Crowley, who wrote, “April has returned to school after some time in the workforce with the goal of becoming an optometrist. Biology can be a challenging subject to learn with lots of new vocabulary.  April asked for help when needed and worked really hard to truly understand and master the course concepts. She sets a great example for her fellow students!”

In telling her story, April wrote, “Like many people, the pandemic turned my normal upside down. I worked in the family business of commercial and residential cleaning, managing the residential division. For obvious reasons, my division was dissolved when COVID-19 hit. I took the opportunity to reevaluate what I wanted to do and made a career change, beginning to work for an optometrist. I fell in love with the work and the science of vision, and with my employer's support, my pursuit of an optometry degree began."

"The QCC Biology program provides the foundation necessary to apply to an optometry program. When I enrolled at QCC, I had minimal scientific background. I had been educated with a young earth creationist curriculum, which left me with a fundamental misunderstanding of the sciences. But, as I dove into my first biology class, I was in awe of the world around me that I knew nothing about. As I struggled to catch up to speed, I turned to Professor Crowley for help, and she provided support and resources to supplement where I was lacking. Biology and chemistry have been like looking at a secret code of how, well, everything works! Everything I had previously believed to be mysterious had proven factual origins and functions. I was hooked.," she said. "Today, I work as an ophthalmic assistant and strive to earn my optometry degree to continue serving my community and meet their visual needs. I enjoy a variety of hobbies, and my social community leans into the performing arts. I enjoy performing in musicals and cabarets with my husband and our friends. This past year, we performed in the musical revue, "Binge Watch Broadway" and Monty Python's "Spamalot." We also sing in traditional four-part a cappella style Barbershop quartets.”

Dallas Burgess – selected by Biotechnology Program Coordinator Professor Archana Mudbidri, who wrote, “It has been a pleasure to have Dallas in my program. She comes to each class with a quiet smile and is always very polite. Dallas is always willing to assist her classmates and is a very good mentor to her lab partners. She has some prior lab experience and uses that to help whenever her lab mates require a helping hand. She had a rough start when she started at QCC and was juggling the care of a close family member, attending classes and a job. She has been working through this with amazing grit and determination. She is a joy to have in the class!”

In telling her story, Dallas wrote, “ I am a Biotechnology student at QCC. I've been a Worcester resident my whole life and I work part-time at a local grocery store while attending school. Science has always fascinated me, and I am so excited to be pursuing my education in this field. I chose QCC because it has a welcoming environment, a tight-knit community, and smaller class sizes that allow me to build better relationships with my professors and classmates."

"My goal is to use my biotechnology degree to research diseases, develop cures, and contribute to gene therapies. There are so many possibilities to explore with a biotechnology degree, and I'm grateful to be studying at QCC to pursue my passions and dreams. The faculty and staff here have been amazing, providing constant support and resources for me to excel academically and professionally. I want to extend my gratitude to Professor Mudbidri for nominating me and guiding me through my education, as well as all my other professors and the staff who make QCC such an incredible place to be a part of," Dallas continued.

Danielle Ellis – selected by Manufacturing Technology Program Professor Damian Kieran, who wrote, “Danielle is an exceptional student with very high standards for the work she produces. She is a leader in the classroom and lab, often leading projects and bringing other students along. She balances schoolwork with a demanding job. She asks challenging and thoughtful questions during class time.”

In telling her story, Danielle wrote, “I chose to pursue an associate degree at QCC due to the hands-on learning in the Manufacturing Technology program and the affordability. I enjoyed my course on lean manufacturing. The principles of lean manufacturing foster a culture of continuous improvement through the elimination of waste and optimization of processes. This approach not only applies to manufacturing, but also can be extended to various aspects of work and life, making it a valuable mindset for personal and professional development.

My career aspirations revolve around leveraging my education in manufacturing technology to excel in both office and factory settings. I am eager to acquire new skills and contribute to the learning experiences of others. Ultimately, my goal is to achieve financial prosperity that enables me to provide a secure and fulfilling life for my family. While finishing my final semester at QCC, I have been employed as a manufacturing engineer technician working 45 hours per week. For fun I enjoy motorcycle camping around New England with my fiancé.”

Elizabeth Martinez – selected by Biology Professor Maura A. Power, who wrote, “Elizabeth is an outstanding student who always takes the extra time to understand the material. She assists her lab partners and works as a true team player. Her questions often create discussions that help not only her but also others to grasp the concepts. She gets great grades because she has set her own bar high. I find her to be a hard worker. I have also learned that she cares for her sibling who has MD and has had it since childhood. What I have discovered about her commitment to her brother and his health is something special. She is in and out of the hospital with him. She is his advocate. This is a big part of why she is pursuing her career in the medical field. Elizabeth is kind, thoughtful and compassionate. I feel Elizabeth is exactly the person to receive a recognition like this. She is outstanding inside and out. Truly, she has touched me and made an impression for me to be better in all that I do too.”

In telling her story, Elizabeth wrote, “I decided to go back to school after graduating with a bachelor's degree in biology 10 years ago, to pursue a degree as a nurse practitioner. I care for my brother who is in the late stages of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Caring for him is what inspired me to work in the medical field. I've always found the human body to be very interesting and enjoy the science behind how our bodies work. I decided to attend QCC because it was close to home and offered convenient classes for me to take as I'm stuck home most of the time with my brother. I am a huge animal lover, I have four pets now, and they keep me going. I don't have much free time, but when I do I enjoy working out and cooking. There is a quote I like by Benjamin Franklin, 'By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.' This is why I try to be prepared for all things at all times.”

Gustavo Santana – selected by Pre-Pharmacy Program Coordinator Chemistry Professor Dilip Patel, who wrote “Gustavo is a highly focused student. He maintains very good relations with fellow students. He is vice president of the Pharmacy club at QCC. He has very high potential of becoming a pharmacist.”

In telling his story, Gustavo wrote “The amazing transfer arrangement that QCC has with MCPHS is what drew me in. It became, without a doubt, that QCC was the ideal choice for me when I learned that I could transfer to one of the best pharmacy programs in the nation with ease. My decision was reinforced by the possibility of saving a substantial amount of money and MCPHS being the only university that would allow me to enroll in a Doctor of Pharmacy program with just my associate. Beyond the outstanding academic opportunities, the relatively small classroom sizes at QCC have shown to be extremely valuable. Smaller class sizes encourage close relationships between students and teachers, which improves engagement and collaboration in the classroom. I made the confident decision to choose QCC to begin my academic and professional career because of its distinctive transfer agreements, financial advantages, and close bond learning experience. 

Now, I can proudly say that I have been accepted to MCPHS and enrolled for the Fall 2024 semester receiving $20,000 scholarships each year at MCPHS. My early interest in science and math became the reason for my studies in college. Upon exploring possible academic fields of study, pharmacy seemed to be a great combination of my interests. Choosing pharmacy is more than just a professional choice, it's a realization of a lifelong dream of mine to work in the medical field, where I feel my love of science and math can have a real positive influence. I'm excited to put my knowledge to use in the future, keep changing lives and fulfill my dream of turning into a pharmacist who has a beneficial impact on the community.  Pharmacy is a wide field with many career options. You can work in retail, clinical settings, or the industrial field. I'm particularly drawn to retail pharmacy based on my experiences so far, but I'm keeping my options open for other opportunities in the pharmacy field. There's a lot to explore, and I want to stay open-minded to different possibilities within the pharmacy profession. I currently work as a pharmacy technician for almost a year now, and being able to get the experience has been incredible. Also, I have a small online business where I sell soccer jerseys from teams all around the world.

I believe it's important to mention that I am Brazilian. This cultural background holds significant meaning for me, and pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy not only aligns with my personal aspirations but also marks a milestone as I aim to become the first doctor in my family. I want to make my family proud, both here in the US and in Brazil. Being so far away from them hurts because I can't see them every day, but I know they support me throughout my academic career. In my free time, I like to hang out with my girlfriend, friends, and family, play soccer, work on cars, and travel."

Harris Taube – selected by Manufacturing Technology Program Professor Damian Kieran, who wrote, “I want to highlight one of our students, Harris Taube. For his project in MNT 101, he made a sign for Laura Hunter for the Career and Transfer Office. Ms. Hunter stated that she and the team were very pleased with his work. Beyond this, I have observed Harris in the Advanced Manufacturing Lab over the past few weeks helping his fellow students make their project parts on the Laser Cutter. It has been impressive to see him take the time and share his knowledge to help other students – he did all this without being asked; he says he gets a kick out of helping other people.”

In telling his story, Harris shared “I enjoy making things and studying how things work. I enjoy working with different types of manufacturing processes. I am happy to be able to help others.”

Heather Lyons – selected by Automotive Technology Program Coordinator Professor John Diethlem, who wrote, “Heather has been a model student; she has many responsibilities between home life and her schoolwork. She is always on time and ready to work. She steps out of her comfort zone often and is not afraid to get her hands dirty and help out any way she can. She is always inquisitive, and her work ethic is exemplary. Even through personal hurdles, she continues to stay focused on her schoolwork.”

In telling her story, Heather wrote, “I enrolled at QCC because I was not a traditional student as well as not knowing what to study, so I decided to attend a few classes online during the pandemic and was very successful. It eventually led to my major today in automotive technology. I love cars and am fascinated by how they work and enjoy working on them and the challenges they bring. I'm working side by side with my professor Mr. Diethelm helping assist students learning automotive tech. It’s been very hands-on and I’m receiving a lot of experience I can use in the field I'm majoring in."

Patrick Brennan – selected by Manufacturing Technology Program Coordinator Professor Lee Duerden, who wrote, “Pat has been an active learner in the manufacturing program from the outset of his time here. He has developed his skills and knowledge and successfully become an advisor/tutor to other students in the program. Pat is reliable and performs well in class and out of class. During his down time Pat works, studies, and helps other students to improve their skills. He is a committed member of our community and should be honored with this recognition.”

In telling his story, Patrick wrote, “I originally enrolled in QCC when I graduated from high school in 2016 to get my CNC certificate, as I was working at a machine shop at the time. Due to financial stress, I unfortunately dropped out early and joined the Army as a scout. At the end of my enlistment, I realized that I was more interested in creating things than blowing them up, so I decided to re-enroll in the manufacturing program at QCC. I have always had an interest in making cool contraptions ever since I was young and playing with Lego bricks or watching Myth Busters. Learning how to go about the design process and create my own inventions with modern manufacturing techniques at QCC, has opened my options and inspired my creativity. I currently tutor students in the advanced manufacturing lab at QCC, as well as work part -ime as a mechanical engineer for a company designing night vision goggles. I plan to use the knowledge gained from QCC and the connections from my work to continue creating innovative products and eventually start my own small business."

Pavlina Adhami – selected by Engineering / Bioengineering Program Coordinator Professor Dadbeh Bigonahy, who wrote, “Pavlina is in Biomedical Engineering. She is hard-working, intelligent, motivated, mature, reliable, well-disciplined, conscientious, cooperative, and a polite student."

In telling her story, Pavlina wrote, “A year ago, I faced one of the most challenging moments in my life when I moved from Albania to the United States. I was apprehensive about how this change would impact my academic journey, but thankfully, QCC provided a supportive environment for a fresh start. Since my high school days, my deep passion for science, particularly biology, has been a guiding force. My dream is to become a tissue engineer, employing a combination of cells, engineering techniques, materials, and relevant biochemical factors to restore, enhance, or replace various biological tissues. I'm also excited to share the fact that I have a beautiful cat named Bianca.”

Quoc Huy Chuong Le – selected by Physics & Astronomy Professor My Nguyen, who wrote, “Huy was a student in my PHY 105 class. He consistently maintains a positive attitude towards studying and problem-solving; actively engaging in class activities. Additionally, he showcases strong leadership skills. Huy demonstrates proficiency in analysis, collaboration, listening to others, and navigating his lecture and lab groups seamlessly.”

In sharing his story, Quoc wrote, “When I was in high school, I took a first-year experience course at QCC through the early college program. My first impression of college was one of comfort and familiarity, which is also why I decided to enroll. I am now pursuing an engineering degree with the goal of becoming a software developer. I like this field of study because of its ability to work remotely. This allows me to work while traveling and to organize my workspace more effectively.”

Rye Hogan – selected by Engineering / Bioengineering Program Coordinator Professor Dadbeh Bigonahy, who wrote, “Lee is a mature, reliable, motivated, intelligent, polite, conscientious, well-disciplined, considerate, and a diligent student.”

In telling his story, Rye wrote, “I enrolled at QCC so that I could complete all of my general education courses at a low cost and with much smaller class sizes before transferring to a university to finish my degree. I'm going to study computer engineering. I want to work on high-speed signal processing for data acquisition or control applications in robotics. There isn't a specific company or field I want to work in, but ideally after graduating I'll be able to work for a variety of different companies in a variety of different fields. Integrated circuit design is widely applicable, so I don't feel like I need to narrow it down much more than that yet.

When I have free time I like to read about new things I find interesting, right now I spend a lot of time following spaceflight and rocket development. I like to cook, so when I have extra time on the weekend I might cook something interesting that I haven't made before. I also have a collection of old computers that I like to restore and use to run older software, or program to do other things that probably I, but no one else finds interesting. I also like to spend time outdoors, I don't have as much space or as much time now, but I enjoy hiking, sailing, and woodworking.”

Shelle Edwards – selected by Biology Professor Judy Pavao, who wrote, “Shelle has shared that she is determined to get an 'A' this semester, which she is currently succeeding at. She is working hard, doing very well on exams and is diligent in the lab (often her group is one of the last finishers). She is always willing to help out her lab partners and brings positive energy to the five-hour night class. I'm impressed with Shelle overcoming a negative experience, setting a high goal for herself, sticking with it (we are in week 9 - and she still has her 'A'), helping others, and bringing a positive energy. You can always count on a smile greeting, her laughing at multiple points during class, and in general having fun while learning.”

In sharing her story, Shelle wrote, "This is my third attempt at graduating, I always understood the importance of a higher education through guidance from the strong woman in my life my mother, aunt, and sister, as well as my growth in my faith as a Christian. I understood there was a higher calling for me and in order to be in a position of greater influence, I needed to educate myself. I had a rough upbringing which had me off course during my high school years. Thankfully by the time I graduated from high school, although I didn't have a clear plan, I knew I wanted to help kids who had been in similar and worse situations and needed to enroll to get the ball rolling.

The area of study that interests me is psychology. That was my initial goal when I was previously enrolled. I've always been interested in what makes us who we are and why we do the things we do. As well as being in a position to help others through periods of healing and growth. My current career aspirations are a two-step process right now. I'm working towards an associate degree in health sciences through the respiratory therapy program. To be in school full-time and work full-time unfortunately isn't something I can do at the moment with my current employment as a patient care assistant at UMass. So, I plan to go back to school after two years working as a respiratory therapist to pursue a degree in psychology, with the hope of working in outreach within Worcester and the surrounding areas with youth to help support and educate.

In my free time I love to listen to music and dance. I love all types of expression; I love to sing and write. I'm currently in a transition period where I am extremely focused on my future, and I spend a lot of time on self-care and self-enrichment reading my bible and fortifying my foundation in God. I feel like in my youth I allowed other people's needs to supersede my own and I'm in my 'me season'. I am from Worcester but also spent 6 years living in different cities in Florida. I currently work full-time as a patient care assistant at UMass, while I am in school. I've had a lot of hardships in my life and even after all it I can see how it has given the beautiful insight into human nature and showed me generational chains that still need breaking."

Sofia Silva-Rosa – selected by Biology Professor Shanna Cawley, who wrote, “Sophia is a general studies student who is taking courses at QCC to figure out more about her interests to pursue them further. She is an exceptional student who puts in tremendous effort to truly understand the concepts covered in class. She is an incredible student example and takes advantage of resources on campus, office hours, and peer tutors to contribute to her successes at QCC. She is enthusiastic, eager to learn, and detailed in her assignments.

In sharing her story, Sofia wrote, “My mother used to attend QCC, and she talked to me about her experience. She told me that it was a great community to be a part of and I would say that is very true. I was warmly welcomed by everyone here and I continue to have many positive experiences in my academic journey. In the career I choose, I would like to help people whether it is in the community or a specific group of people. QCC helped me to realize there are so many careers that involve helping people! In my free time, I love to spend time with family and friends, journal, do yoga, salsa dance, and try new things!"


The STEM Students of the Semester are featured each Fall and Spring semester. For more information contact Adrienne Linnell.

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