Andrea Lucia Alfonso knew at an early age she wanted to focus her professional life in a field that combines science and math. What Alfonso, a biology and engineering major at County College of Morris (CCM), did not envision was that before the age of 20 she would be performing research in artificial tissue engineering and presenting and publishing her findings to a national audience.
As a junior in high school, Alfonso decided to research what summer internship opportunities she might be able to find. What she found was STEP-UP, Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons, a program offered through the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The only New Jersey resident to receive an internship, her next task was to find a lab to work in so she turned to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and the Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering and Stem Cell Lab.
To date, she has spent three years working on artificial tissue engineering with the goal of playing a role in the development of a cure for diabetics. She has presented her research at a National Institutes of Health (NIH) conference and was the lead author of an article about her work in the Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practices. Based on her success, she has been awarded an NIH summer internship to continue her work at NJIT.
For Alfonso, whose brother and sister both attended CCM, there was no question where she would begin her college education.
“My parents and I knew this would be the right place for me because of all the support and opportunities CCM offers,” she says. “The professors here are really supportive and know what it takes to succeed.”
Plus she is a New Jersey STAR student, who graduated in the top 15 percent of her high school class, qualifying her for free tuition at a community college.
Her success both in and out of the classroom found her being selected as one of only 10 students nationwide to receive a $7,500 Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Hites Transfer Scholarship. That award is the honor society’s most prestigious and largest scholarship.
At CCM, Alfonso has been an active member of the college community, serving as president of the Student Activities Programming Board and vice president of service for the college’s PTK honor society.
“I feel you have to take advantage of opportunities,” says Alfonso. “The door could be wide open to you but if you don’t step inside, you will never know what’s there for you.”
What’s next for her is to continue her education in biomedical engineering with the goal of developing a career in either tissue engineering or medicine. As a native of Colombia who came here as a child, she also wants to serve as a role model for others.
“In most of my classes, I am the only girl and only Hispanic,” she says. “It gives me extra motivation to succeed and to provide other minorities with a voice and a pathway to follow.”