For these ACBT graduates, this two-year, hands-on diploma program helped to set them up for a great career in the sciences.
When Chelsea Maskos stepped out of Camosun's Applied Chemistry & Biotechnology (ACBT) program, she stepped right into a paid internship at the Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS). Maskos was part of a research project led by Dr. Michael Ikonomou.
Because Camosun's two-year ACBT program has such a practical hands-on focus, Maskos has the skills to develop and apply new testing procedures for analyzing trace levels of organic contaminants in marine environments.
"This internship has been invaluable," says Maskos. "I couldn't have dreamt for a better position. It's given me flexibility, experience, responsibility and training that wouldn't come in an average work term. I'm also lucky to be able to take a project through almost all the stages including sample prep, extraction, instrumental analysis, quantification and data summary."
Learning from the best
An added bonus for Maskos is the mentorship she is getting from Camosun instructor Blair Surridge. Besides holding a Master of Science degree in organic chemistry, Surridge has worked as an environmental analytical chemist over the past decade and is able to bring that real-world experience into the classroom. Surridge worked side-by-side with Maskos in Ikonomou's research group at the IOS, using state-of-the art analytical facilities made available by DFO's Laboratory of Expertise in Aquatic Chemical Analysis (LEACA).
"This is challenging, exacting work," says Surridge. "We're establishing new protocols and procedures for measuring environmental contaminants, and tracking how these contaminants are being distributed through fragile eco-systems. This includes contaminants that are potentially harmful to marine life, which come from a wide range of products including certain plastics, electronic equipment, and sewage effluents which contain numerous substances including pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
IOS scientist Dr. Michael Ikonomou is an internationally recognized researcher in his field and is involved in a number of projects that require the applied skills taught in the ACBT program. Ikonomou has long been involved with the ACBT program and is committed to maintaining a strong relationship with Camosun.
Maskos has always been interested in science. Growing up in Alberta, her favourite toys were a microscope and a telescope. As a teenager she moved to Victoria with her family and finished Grades 11 and 12 at Victoria High School, where she learned about Camosun College and its reputation for great teachers and small classes.
But she didn't jump into college right away. Maskos took a couple years off after high school and moved back to Alberta to work and save money for tuition and living expenses. She knew Camosun had lower tuition than universities and focused, career-oriented programs, and true to plan, she graduated debt-free with marketable skills.
"I always knew sciences were for me," says Rosy McCrodan, a graduate of Camosun's Applied Chemistry and Biotechnology (ACBT) program. After finishing high school, she followed the traditional science-based path to university. But, as one of 400 students in first-year lectures, she found it hard to thrive – the atmosphere was too overwhelming, too impersonal.
"I felt like no one cared about me," she says. After a dispirited year, her mother, an instructor at Camosun, suggested she might like the smaller class size and individualized attention at the college.
"It was such a relief to come to Camosun!" says McCrodan. "I'm an academic. Camosun has amazing teachers and a focus on skills. This was an atmosphere where I could learn."
Igniting a career
"I got sparked with chemistry at Camosun," says McCrodan. Immersed in second-year organic chemistry, her instructor, Larry Lee, suggested she join the ACBT program. It was a perfect fit. "The small cohort felt like family, and the instructors made very sure I was getting what I needed out of the program."
Lee agrees: "In our ACBT program, we'll do our best to mentor and provide guidance to students from the beginning until they reach their goal."
The program was originally designed to prepare the two-year ACBT diploma program graduates for laboratory work in subjects such as cancer research, microbial disease research, drug development, plant biotech, or environmental protection. Increasingly, however, the program has launched students into further education. The optional internship enables students to try out potential careers. In addition, the program's core courses transfer into programs such as Royal Roads University's Bachelor of Environmental Science, and can bolster the application to professional schools such as University of BC (UBC) Dentistry, UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences, or BC Institute of Technology Public Health.
Combining science and people
McCrodan realized she wanted to find a career direction that combined both organic chemistry and working with people. As she began to consider her options, she heard a story of a previous ACBT student entering dentistry at UBC. Then, one day, her own dentist pointed to an amalgam filling and said "this is why you take chemistry." And right then, her career clicked into focus.
McCrodan was accepted into the dentistry program on her first try – not an easy feat. In today's world, scientific brilliance is not the only criteria, interpersonal skills are just as important. Now in her first semester of the very demanding dentistry program at UBC, McCrodan credits the ACBT program with her success. Even though she was required to complete her final prerequisites at the University of Victoria, she thanks Camosun for supplying her with practical skills and the support she needed. "I am doing what I really want to do," says McCrodan.