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My GRCC Story: TRIO program connects Jose Ortega Carcano with University of Michigan researchers to work toward COVID-19 cure

Nov. 12, 2020 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Grand Rapids Community College student Jose Ortega Carcano’s pursuit of a nursing career has already involved him in working to alleviate the biggest public health crisis of the modern era.

As a participant in the University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program this summer, Carcano worked with Dr. Fadhl Alakwaa, of the Neurology Department, on potential COVID-19 cures. 

“The purpose of my research was to understand the sequence of RNA at the cellular level of the COVID-19 virus so I can potentially find drugs to cure or treat patients of this deadly virus,” Carcano said.

The UROP program is just one of many summer research opportunities offered through GRCC’s TRIO/Student Support Services program. TRIO students can also participate in Michigan Technological University’s Michigan College and University Partnership, the Summer Health Professions Education Program, and research projects through the Van Andel Institute, among others.

The 10-week UROP program was Carcano’s first experience with medical research.

“My UROP experience was different from the experiences of other students from previous years,” he said. “The University of Michigan was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the program had to be done virtually.”

Carcano was unable to live on the U of M campus, work in the laboratories or attend the end-of-program symposium in person.

But his hard work still drew appreciation -- and accolades: UROP named him its Spring 2020 Blue Ribbon Winner.

Carcano plans to transfer to a four-year institution for a bachelor’s in nursing. He would like to work in a hospital for a few years and then work as a traveling nurse.

“I would like to be involved in missionary trips to Mexico to provide healthcare to those in need,” he said. “One of my biggest plans is to bring my brother to the U.S. to get treatment or a cure for his epileptic seizures.”

He ultimately wants to return to the classroom for a master’s degree and become a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. 

Students of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds will find they belong and can be successful at GRCC. They will find plenty of help from the programs -- and their fellow students: Carcano learned about the UROP opportunity from a fellow student who participated in the program last year.

“There are many resources that GRCC provides to their students,” Carcano said. “We must take advantage of them in order to be successful.”

Grand Rapids Community College offers learners of all ages opportunities to gain credits for degrees or transfer and in-demand career skills leading to rewarding careers. GRCC was established in 1914 – Michigan’s first community college -- and offers affordable classes on weekdays, evenings, Saturdays and online at locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.