By Maria Flores,  Oct. 12, 2021

On Oct. 4, Cal Poly Pomona’s Biological Science Department was approved by the associate director of annual funds to raise money through a crowdfunding campaign for basic research supplies for students and faculty, which some in the department believe is currently underfunded.  

By the end of October, the Student Research in the Biological Sciences campaign hopes to raise $10,000 from faculty and administrators to supply underfunded researchers with necessities such as gloves, pipette tips, microcentrifuge tubes, alcohol and Clorox wipes. For each $10 donated, it will supply one student per day, and for each $50 fundraised, it will supply one student per week.  

The crowdfunding opportunity was initiated by Nancy Buckley, a professor in the Biological Sciences Department. She has been conducting research with her students for 22 years and recognized that for students to advance in their education, CPP needs to support student and faculty research. 

“All throughout my years, I have had to work with very little money and sometimes make it stretch out, and I still give my students a valuable experience because there is nothing, nothing, that will substitute hands-on experience,” said Buckley. “The university provides opportunities which can be very competitive here and there, but never enough for all of us.” 

Frances Mercer, an assistant professor in the department, values Buckley’s efforts to fund research supplies, but expressed concern about the university’s budget management and that this crowdfunding campaign was even necessary. 

Specifically, Mercer criticized the lack of increased funding for students and faculty even with the California State University receiving a boost in funding from the state budget, one Chancellor Joseph Castro called “historic” in a June statement.  

“So, it seems to me, the overall CSU is devoting a bigger percentage of that ‘historic’ budget to administrator salaries and not to keep the faculty salaries fair,” said Mercer. “I would hope that in a historic funding year, we would be devoting more money to things that get more students actively involved in learn by doing, especially after these years of remote learning that I think have hurt the students.”  

While contending with a limited budget, many of the department’s students appreciate the opportunities the campaign could allow.  

The chute positions the cow, as Najera draws blood from it. (Courtesy of Jonathan Najera)

Jonathan Najera, a master’s biological sciences student, is conducting research under the Agricultural Research Institute grant. When he is at CPP’s Beef Unit, he draws blood from the cattle to isolate the white blood cells and runs analyses to understand how trichomonas, a bovine parasite, reacts to one’s immune system.  

Through his given opportunities to conduct research, he highlights the importance of funding students’ research.  

“The whole point of the master’s program is to do experiments and actually get results,” said Najera. “Money is important because we are working with these experiments, and if something doesn’t work, you know, it’s hundreds and hundreds of dollars. If we do not have the money, we are not able to continue our experiments; our thesis is practically put on hold and our education.”  

Suhani Bhakta analyzes cells with the full cytometer. (Courtesy of Suhani Bhakta)

Under Mercer’s supervision, Barbara Flores, an undergraduate biotechnology student, has devoted her time at the lab to investigate the mechanisms of immunity caused by the parasite, trichomoniasis. She also emphasized the significance of funding for research supplies. 

“I don’t think we would be able to do half the things if we didn’t have those supplies,” said Flores. “Since we are basically doing a gene editing, using CRISPR/Cas9 is an expensive enzyme that is at least a couple hundred dollars for a tiny tube.” 

While the crowdfunding campaign web page sets up, Buckley hopes that by the end of October, students in the Biological Sciences Department may present their research plans to three faculty members and support their experiments with the funding earned. 

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