When Dr. Richard Carmona was confirmed as the U.S. Surgeon General in July, he, like others who reach the pinnacle of their chosen professions, sent off greetings and words of thanks to college professors who had helped him get there. But Carmona's thanks were sent to Bronx Community College, whose professors gave a chance to the high school dropout. After graduating from BCC in 1973, Carmona went on to earn a bachelor's degree and a medical degree at the University of California at San Francisco, graduating first in his M.D. class.
That Carmona got his start in higher-education medical science at a two-year school might surprise those who for whom "community college" conjures up few laboratory or any other scientific associations, save those having to do with automotive and refrigerator-repair classes.
But the latest achievement of this community college graduate only underscores something community college educators have known for years: students interested in science, mathematics and engineering can get two years of robust undergraduate education at two-year schools. Professors, unlike their counterparts at big, four-year universities and graduate schools, are there to teach, and students find themselves in classes of 14 rather than 400.
Nevertheless, it wasn't until recently that community colleges have been able to attract the federal grants and private gills that make it possible to provide research opportunities and state-of-the-art laboratory equipment to two-year students.
Following the Money
In 1991, when Elizabeth Teles was first hired as program director for the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education Program, less than a million dollars in grant money was going to programs at community colleges. Last year, the NSF gave out about $55 million to community college science programs, and much more through partnerships with four-year colleges and high schools, For the colleges that receive these grants, the money can make all the difference in developing a cutting-edge teaching and research program and competing with four-year schools in the region.
"We've been doing this for many generations," said Dr. Philip Day, chancellor of the City College of San Francisco. "We were always talking to NSF about the fact that they were directing resources to …