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CCRI graduate wants to study venom biology
Student Success Story, May 24, 2011
When Heather Kumar came to the Community College of Rhode Island, she decided to start over. She had studied civil engineering at Florida A&M University for two years, but had not done as well as she wished.
“It was a party school and I got caught up in the lifestyle, I’m ashamed to say,” Kumar said. “I told myself that when I got here I would start fresh. I came up here and I’m definitely a whole new person. You wouldn’t recognize me.”
Kumar, a Middletown resident, came to Rhode Island when her father, a member of the U.S. Navy, was transferred from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in 2009. She arrived just in time to start the fall 2009 semester.
“I got up here a week before the semester started,” Kumar said. “School started on a Monday and I came that Friday to do my [academic skills assessment test] and get my ID. That was after a 27- hour drive.”
Since coming to CCRI, Kumar resumed her studies in engineering – this time focused on biomedical – but has added a new twist: the exotic field of venom biology.
“Ever since I was 10 years old I wanted to be an engineer,” she said. “But I also love animals, I love medicine and I love problem-solving, so I want to combine them all into the field of toxicology and do research.”
Venom biology is the practice of extracting venom from creatures such as snakes, spiders, Gila monsters, fish, scorpions and jellyfish – “anything that stings, really,” Kumar said – and using it to treat diseases such as diabetes and hemophilia.
Interests like these give Kumar an affinity for the sciences, one that she shared with fellow students at CCRI. She spent two semesters as a tutor at the CCRI Success Center, helping students with organic chemistry, physics, cellular biology and calculus.
“It’s so much fun,” Kumar said. “I get to meet all kinds of people: young and old, different races and people who already have degrees and are coming back to school.”
Kumar also shared her knowledge of science with visiting high school students during the CCRI Technology Open House, in which students from across Rhode Island gather at CCRI to learn about collegiate-level science and technology programs.
From nearly dropping out of school in Florida to becoming a full-time model student at CCRI, Kumar said her time here has been transformative. She graduated with a 3.86 GPA and was runner-up for Class of 2011 student commencement speaker.
“I’ve enjoyed it more than I did the university experience,” Kumar said of her time at CCRI. “It’s like a close-knit family. I don’t have to wait three weeks to see the dean; they take care of you here.”
Kumar’s father is retiring from the Navy at the end of this year and her family will return to Florida. She has been accepted to Florida International University to study biomedical engineering and plans to attend medical school after that to specialize in toxicology.