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Date: Wed, Apr 7th, 2021

Three Great Falls College students selected for Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program

Dr. Brenda Canine is thrilled to announce three students -- Ginny McCracken, Alexander Springer and Elise Conter -- have been selected for the Bridges to the Baccalaureate program at Montana State in Bozeman.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Great Falls College MSU students Ginny McCracken, Alexander Springer and Elise Conter all were selected for the Bridges to the Baccalaureate summer enrichment program at Montana State University.

Bridges helps Montana's tribal college and community college students prepare to transfer into biomedical and other health science fields at Montana State University in Bozeman.

"Ginny, Alexander and Elise already have shown an interest in the biomedical sciences at Great Falls College, and we are so excited they will take it to the next level with this immersive summer program," said Dr. Brenda Canine, a biology instructor at Great Falls college. "We are so proud of their achievements already and can't wait to see where they go."

Participants spend eight weeks at the MSU campus gaining hands-on experience in biomedical/health science research alongside dedicated faculty members and their research teams. The partner two-year colleges on the Bridges program are Aaniiih Nakoda College, Gallatin College-MSU, Great Falls College and Little Bighorn College.

Bridges is coordinated through the American Indian Research Opportunities consortium and is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Dylan Maxwell, who did the Bridges program in the summer of 2020, has a quick answer about who would benefit from the Bridges program.

"Everyone," he said.

Maxwell started college when he was 23 at Montana State-Northern and received an associate's degree before going to Great Falls College MSU for some general education courses during the 2019-2020 school year.

"If there was anything that helped the most so far, it would be Bridges," he said of his educational journey. "The hands-on research opportunities, the self-accountability. Rather than just being a college student, you would have to do all of that and go to all of the meetings and handle all your stuff."

The eight weeks Maxwell and his fellow interns spent in Bozeman acclimating to the campus, earning some money and learning how to conduct research with some of the brightest minds on campus was invaluable, he said.

"I would highly recommend it for any student, no matter what they are studying, to give it a thought, because if it links back to biomedical research, which is such a wide field of study, you can potentially participate in Bridges," he explained. "And even for me, as an engineering student, I am so far ahead of where I would have been if I hadn't.
We got to work with a great team that explained to us all about the biology side of it."

Maxwell is studying electrical engineering at Montana State, and he said even though the internship is over, he is still reaping the benefits from his time in Bridges, which is part of the Empower Program that aims to help the inclusion and success of minorities and women in science, tech, engineering and math fields, tribal college students and first-generation college students such as himself.

"The networking is huge, and it's not temporary," he said. "I still go meet up with people from the program. Once you are in Empower, they have tutors come in from all majors, and you have that resource. It doesn't stop just after the summer. It just keeps growing. That networking is in my back pocket when I have a need for that extra little help."

He said working with Dr. Christa Merzdorf. assistant professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Montana State, and Jennifer Forecki, a postdoctoral researcher in Merzdorf's lab, was exciting and educational.

He also said Amy Stix and Dr. Maria Velazquez with Empower have been incredible assets.

"I couldn't speak more highly about those two," Maxwell said. "They really gave everything to their students."

Another highlight was meeting Dr. Mari Eggers, who "taught us all about how to conduct our research and is a leading force for ethical research and public health in the state," Maxwell said. "She is a huge part of Bridges."

Finally, Canine, the Great Falls College liaison to the program, "she's been awesome, honestly," Maxwell said.

Canine was impressed with Maxwell's enthusiasm and aptitude.

"Dylan was a hard worker who took advantage of his opportunities by bringing his unique perspective to that experience," she said. "He is a great ambassador for the MSU campuses with experiences in Havre, Great Falls and now Bozeman. He really exemplifies how far a student can go."

Canine is eager to see where the Bridges program takes McCraken, Springer and Conter.

"It's such a fantastic opportunity and great honor to be selected," she said. "We know they will contribute greatly to the program and build on this experience for the rest of their lives."

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