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Community College Proven: RCSJ Alum Joins Fight Against COVID-19

10/16/2020

Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) alum and Swedesboro native, Cassandra Bundalian, will be the first to tell you that success does not require a “brand name” education. It would be challenging to argue, as her journey which began at RCSJ has taken her all the way to the Colorado Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 response team.

“The beautiful thing about education is that you get what you put in,” states Bundalian. “I got so much out of my education at a community college because its value isn’t in its name, but what you plan to do with your time there.”

Bundalian will be the first to admit it took her a while to realize that education is all about effort: “As a high school student, I didn’t shine bright in my academics and it was worse when I first went to RCSJ at 18 years old. I needed time to mature and figure out what I wanted to do and RCSJ was still there for me when I was ready for it five years later.”

When Bundalian returned to RCSJ in 2015 to enroll in the College’s Biology program, she did so with a renewed focus and a commitment to take advantage of every academic opportunity available. She applied herself to her studies, forged relationships with professors, actively participated in RCSJ’s STEM Club and Women in STEM mentorship program, and eagerly accepted a coveted internship at Cooper University Hospital’s stem cell research labs.

“My time at Rowan College of South Jersey was so fulfilling,” she states. “Opportunities are abundant at RCSJ and the resources there allow you to force open doors you didn’t know were available. There were times as a student that I felt lost in not only my ability to succeed academically, but also how to figure out what I wanted from my degree outside of just having it. In those moments RCSJ and the people within those walls were able to guide me back on to the path I was supposed to be on.”

After earning her associate degree in Biology at RCSJ, that path lead Bundalian to Rowan University in a transfer process she described as “painless,” thanks to a unique partnership between the two institutions. Bundalian continued to apply herself – both as a full-time university student and a full-time veterinary technician – and in May 2020, amidst a worldwide pandemic, she graduated from Rowan University with a Bachelor’s in Biology and a minor in Chemistry.

One short but eventful month later, following a long-awaited move to Denver, C.O., Bundalian landed her dream job at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, working as a molecular technologist in the laboratory services division as part of the State’s COVID-19 response team. Her role there, which she characterizes as “exciting” and “an incredible learning experience” may have been inspired in part by the pandemic, but it was supported by the confidence and skills she developed at RCSJ.

“My time at RCSJ in the Biology program set me up so well for critical analysis,” Bundalian reflects. “I really believe the standards that I kept as a student were forged in Scott Hall where I was properly challenged. In addition, RCSJ gave me the opportunity to explore what it was like to be in a laboratory setting at Cooper University Hospital. This internship opportunity was incredible for an undergrad in community college and opened my eyes to how much I loved being in a lab environment.”

While pleased with the opportunity to play a role in the battle against COVID-19, Bundalian’s aspirations do not end there: “The love of learning that I found in myself at RCSJ is the same fire that allows me to excel in my job now, and drives me to seek entry into the Master of Science program at Colorado State University to go deeper into the field of epidemiology and disease control.”

Visit RCSJ.edu/Enroll to learn more about the opportunities that are waiting for you.

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