Stronger than Ever, Actually
Pamela Joy Tabaquin, just weeks away from Queensborough's virtual graduation ceremony, is wistful. “I will miss giving my friends a high five, and thanking my professors in person for their incredible support. In spite of these circumstances, my connections with everyone feels stronger than ever.”
Strong connections are what allowed Pamela, a Filipino immigrant, to follow her dreams to the U.S. four years ago. She is from a large, close-knit family. Her mother, a single parent, worked tirelessly to raise Pamela and her five siblings, who now range in ages from 11 to 32 years.
“My mother's selflessness inspired me to seek a better life for me, and for her,” said Pamela, 20, who acknowledged that coming to the U.S. was an overwhelming experience. “I had nothing, no direction, and no idea what my future held.”
Nevertheless, she knew college was the key to a brighter future and, in fall 2017, enrolled at Queensborough Community College to study chemistry.
Pamela's initial interest in science was due to her parents. “My dad studied to be an internist in the Philippines but passed away during his fourth year in medical school due to myocardial infarction. Although I was only three when he died I still remember him and miss him very much.” Pamela's mother was a nurse in the Philippines, and most of Pamela's relatives are nurses.*
Her interest in science took on momentum as a High School student at Binmaley Catholic School. “I had a wonderful science teacher who encouraged me to spend extra time at home looking into ‘how' and ‘why'. There are so many unanswered questions out there.”
Pamela's drive to pursue study in this field widened under the guidance of her chemistry mentors, Drs. Paris Svoronos and David Sarno, from whom she learned how to approach and solve problems in a systematic and meticulous fashion.
It was in spring 2018, when Pamela first met Dr. Svoronos in his General Chemistry I Honors class and shortly thereafter, Dr. Sarno in CH-151 General Chemistry I Honors. “I will always be grateful to have been part of an outstanding chemistry department. Dr. Svoronos instilled in me self-confidence to tackle the challenging biochemical aspects of science and always motivated me to aim high.” In 2019, Pamela was awarded her first National Science Foundation-Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) paid summer internship at Vanderbilt University, where she worked on an electrochemistry project under the guidance of a mentor. She received the "Best Fan Favorite Award" during the poster session.
At Queensborough, Pamela was the President of the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS) club, and a Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) member. She also served as an Organic Chemistry I and II group (classroom) and online tutor.
Most recently, she won a 2020 NSF-REU paid summer institute at UPenn (canceled because of COVID). However, she is invited for next year's REU program. She has been named an American Chemical Society's Scholar (ACS) in part because of her Hispanic heritage. The ACS had a large pool of candidates from which to designate approximately 100 Scholars, and her selection is an indication of her ability to succeed in a rigorous course of scientific study. This spring she was an intern at the Food and Drug Administration in Jamaica, Queens, to conduct research on trace elements of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in foods. Twice she also received the Paris Svoronos Scholarship in spring 2019 and spring 2020.
Pamela's success is a source of pride in her family, including aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. She lives in Queens Village with her mother; half-sister, Almer Martinez, 11; and 21 year-old sister, Princess, a fourth semester student at Queensborough who is majoring in Psychology. Her oldest sister, Precious, 28 and aunt, Marivic, are nurses at Ozanam Hall of Queens Nursing Home in Bayside and aunt, Marilyn, is a nurse at Northwell Health in Glen Oaks. Her brothers, Addison and Ariston, work in the retail business.
Pamela sorely misses her grandparents with whom she lived for a time, back home. “Like my mom, they showed me unconditional love. We shared so much together; my grandfather often cooked homemade meals like Filipino noodles and Chicken Adobo.”
Pamela intends to continue feeding her passion for a life in the sciences. “I am already considering doctorate study in Biochemistry/Chemistry. I am interested in nanochemistry and organic chemistry research as I am concerned about the renewable energy and future global energy storage and sources.”
Pamela will continue her studies in Biochemistry this fall at City College. She said, “I know things are uncertain but I also know that it's better for me to stay focused on my goals and keep the strong connections with my friends and professors. “We will help each other through this.”
As for this summer, Pamela says social distancing won't cramp her style at all. Her favorite past times are to bike and play badminton and table tennis with her cousins and siblings.
*Soon after the Philippines became a U.S. colony in 1898, the U.S. implemented American nursing programs in the Philippines. This Americanized nursing curriculum inadvertently prepared them to work in the United States. They were trained, oftentimes, in English instruction. [Anne Brice, Berkeley News]
Photo: 2019 NSF-REU summer internship at Vanderbilt University.