Dreams take flight in Elmhurst

Published: July 20, 2021


Relocated from the Caribbean, a recent Queensborough graduate discovers her pathway to a science career

Jernaire Mitchell departed Trinidad and Tobago in December 2018, eight days after her 22nd birthday, hastily leaving home to board a United Airlines flight. She was heading to New York to be with, and surprise, her father.

“He was crying and so happy. And I was freezing cold. You can’t get winter clothes in Sando,” she said, referring to her hometown, San Fernando, on the western side of the Caribbean’s southernmost island, just 7 miles off the Venezuelan coast.

 “Dad could not believe I was here. He called my aunt and all of my family came over. Everyone was so happy,” added the former pharmacy technician and spring 2021 Queensborough Community College graduate.

Two weeks later, now living in Elmhurst, Mitchell started College as a chemistry major.

Jernaire Mitchell holding a pipette“Mom was a telecommunications supervisor. Dad is an electrical engineer. Both graduated college. Dad always said come to New York City and you can be anything. He said things could be really different if I had a degree. Don’t waste your years!” said Mitchell, one of Queensborough’s six participants in SUNY Stony Brook’s annual summer Biology Partnership in Research and Education Program (BioPREP).

“Science has always been a big part of my education. I received high marks in school, and when you do that in Trinidad, you end up taking physics, chemistry, and biology,” she explained.

Mitchell’s interest in biotechnology developed at Queensborough, supported and encouraged by Dr. Peter Novick (Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences and Geology) and Dr. Nidhi Gadura (Professor and Chair, Department of Biological Science and Geology). Halfway through her studies, Mitchell switched majors.

“Dr. Novick was my mentor. He and Professor Gadura made me realize the value of biotechnology and pushed me to do better. They always had high hopes for me.” Both educators recommended Mitchell for the prestigious, paid, NIH-funded intern program at Stony Brook.

Established 27 years ago, BioPREP encourages underrepresented community college students to pursue careers in biomedical sciences. Over 100 Queensborough students have participated in the demanding program since its inception. About 90% have earned a bachelor's degree, most in the sciences or health-related fields. By comparison, about 30% of community college graduates in America achieve a bachelor’s degree. One-third of Queensborough’s BioPREP participants also go on to earn advanced degrees at graduate school.

“I like the investigative nature of biotechnology, especially lab work. I want to make important discoveries and find new things,” Mitchell noted while preparing for an August symposium. She plans to attend City College in the fall.

A beneficiary of CUNY’s ASAP program, a comprehensive scholarship, and personalized advisement service, Mitchell wished she had decided to come to New York, and Queensborough, sooner.

“I’m 24 now. So many of my classmates were 18 or 19 when I started. As an older student, maybe I appreciate it more than I would have at their age.  My friends back home are impressed that I could do it. They see what I have done in such a short time and they are motivated to come here.”

If they do, they will have to bring Mitchell her favorite Trinidadian street food: doubles – tangy, sweet, savory, spicy, flatbread and chickpea wraps.

“I love New York, all that I have learned and discovered, and all the opportunities here. But you can’t get doubles here, like home. People try their best to mimic it, but that’s not possible,” she advised.



Contact:  Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle

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