FLCC trustees honor alumni, student researchers

Three students in science lab
From left, Philip Simmons, Matthew Brooks, and Demetrice Garcia, shown in a Finger Lakes Community College lab in March 2021, were the first to work on a project to determine the conditions that promote the fastest growth of mushroom fibers and the bioactive compounds these fibers produce. They have since been joined by current students Leila Doerrer and Chelsea Patterson.

The Finger Lakes Community College Board of Trustees recognized a group of five current and former students who were chosen to present their research on the cultivation of mushroom sugars for a national conference in April.

The research project is part of an 18-month collaboration between FLCC and Empire Medicinals, a Henrietta company that sells mushrooms and mushroom-blended meats. It sought the college’s help for basic research that could lead to the extraction and commercialization of mushroom sugars as a food supplement.

Three of the students, who have since graduated, and two current students represented FLCC at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), an annual event that involves 3,200 students, faculty, and administrators.

Head and shoulders photo
James Hewlett

“NCUR is the largest showcase in the country of undergraduate research, so it’s all institution types,” James Hewlett of Webster, the professor leading the project, told the board at its May 4 meeting. ”It’s not a given. You have to apply, and the applications go through some pretty intense scientific review before you’re accepted to present at this conference. It’s a huge deal to actually get accepted, and it becomes a published abstract.”

Presenters were Matthew Brooks, a 2021 biotechnology graduate from Canandaigua, Demetrice Garcia, a 2021 biotechnology graduate from Newark, and Philip Simmons of Keuka Park, who has a 2021 associate degree in biotechnology and a 2020 associate degree in viticulture and wine technology.

Head and shoulders photo of Chelsea Patterson
Chelsea Patterson

Current students Leila Doerrer, a biotechnology major from Honeoye Falls, and Chelsea Patterson, an engineering science major from Farmington, also contributed to the development of a poster summarizing the research for the conference.

“It’s a very fascinating study, and I’m very happy to have been a part of it,” said Patterson. “It’s definitely opened my eyes to the detail that research takes, and I absolutely love everything about it.”

Head and shoulders photo of Leila Doerrer
Leila Doerrer

“I have to be honest. This is the most valuable experience I’ve probably ever had in my entire life,” said Doerrer. “I’ve learned so much. I can run a whole bunch of machines, like bioreactors. I’ve learned how to operate an autoclave.”

Hewlett, who has been recognized as a State University of New York distinguished service professor for his work promoting student research, directs the students with adjunct instructor Sarad Parekh of Pittsford and instructional specialist Jessica Halliley of Rochester.

The goal of the project is to determine the conditions that promote the fastest growth of mushroom fibers, called mycelia, and the bioactive compounds these fibers produce.

Mushrooms are well established as a health food; they are low in calories and high in fiber, protein and antioxidants. Sugars they produce, called beta-glucans, are studied for their potential to boost the immune system, lower cholesterol and fight cancer. Isolating the sugars requires growing the mycelia in a broth-like medium, separating the liquids and solids, then filtering the liquid.

The students grew two strains of mushrooms in two different broths – one with glucose and another with lactose. One of the strains produced the highest yield in lactose, a sugar found in milk.

Unlike a carefully controlled lab exercise, researchers can run into problems, Brooks noted.

“If something goes wrong, like one of our batches gets contaminated, it’s not like the professors know the answer right away. It’s a genuine mystery,” he said, adding that it takes collaboration to diagnose the problem.

Trustee George Cushman praised the research program for the range of skills it fosters.

“What I heard … was that you learned a lot of transferable skills, and it’s not necessarily the things that go on a resume all the time, but it’s really what the employers need,” he said. “I heard about working together as a team, solving problems – all these things don’t necessarily translate on a resume, but they really are essential skills.”

Hewlett said the college is seeking more research projects, particularly among small startups like Empire Medicinals that lack research and development capacity.  “They need help and we need projects,” he said.

State grant to fund additional lab in nursing expansion project


Professor watching nursing simulation
Nursing instructor Tiffani Leyden monitors a nursing simulation exercise from behind a one-way mirror in the renovated Finger Lakes Community College nursing wing. Leyden, who also recorded the session, later debriefed with students about their response to the symptoms a computerized manikin presented during the exercise.

Finger Lakes Community College has received a $1.5 million grant to add an additional science lab to the Sands Family Center for Allied Health now under construction at the main campus.

FLCC broke ground on the $7.2 million expansion and renovation project in June 2021. SUNY later notified FLCC that the College would receive $1.5 million through the SUNY Workforce Development Initiative, which funds projects designed to train people for high-demand jobs. The state has identified health care, and nursing in particular, as a top priority.

The project is opening in stages. The renovated area on the third floor of the main campus, which features a new nursing simulation lab, opened in August 2021. The expansion includes more nursing lab and instructional spaces and a fourth floor lobby; it will open in summer 2022. 

Our students are already experiencing an enhanced educational experience in our newly renovated nursing space. The expansion, now nearly complete, and this additional science lab will provide even greater flexibility and capacity as we prepare students for health care careers,” FLCC President Robert Nye said.

The additional 1,800-square-foot science lab and instructional space will be built next to the new lobby and open in 2023. The lab will be equipped with HyFlex technology allowing for simultaneous in-person and remote instruction to support students in health care programs.

When complete, the Sands Family Center for Allied Health will allow FLCC to accept 50 percent more students in the two-year registered nursing program and launch a one-year licensed practical nursing program. 

With the new facilities, FLCC will be able to accept students into the registered nursing program in both the fall and spring. The application for the first spring class, in January 2023, will open in early May on the College website at flcc.edu. 

The College will also use the center to provide certificate training for nurse assistants, home health aides and phlebotomy technicians. A federal grant currently covers most or all of the tuition for these three short-term certificate programs. Anyone interested in enrolling can learn more at flcc.edu/reimagine or (585) 785-1670.

The Sands Family Center for Allied Health is named for the chief donor, the Sands Family Foundation, which contributed $3 million to the project. 

In addition to the Sands Family Foundation gift, the FLCC Student Corporation has pledged $250,000 while the FLCC Foundation and the FLCC Association will each contribute $200,000. These gifts were matched by New York State. The additional grant brings the project total to $8.7 million.