At 17, Jael Rivera watched as her grandmother had a massive heart attack.

“Since that day, I just wanted to be prepared for any type of emergency,” said Rivera, who graduated in 2016 from the College of the Mainland Licensed Vocational Nursing Program.

Rivera is one of the many students benefiting from the hands-on training in the COM Licensed Vocational Nursing Program, which was recently ranked No. 14 out of 77 Texas programs.

Practicalnursing.org, an independent website serving future health care professionals, assessed licensed vocational nursing programs statewide on several factors. It looked at state licensure exam pass rates data from the previous five years.

COM’s pass rate is 90.14 percent for the past five years.

The average annual salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for licensed vocational nurses in the Houston, Woodlands and Sugar Land area is $49,830. The occupation is growing much faster than average.

The application deadline is Sept. 15 for the spring 2018 class.

Begun in 2005, the COM Vocational Nursing Program is approved by the Texas Board of Nursing. Graduates can take the exam to become licensed vocational nurses.

COM also offers a licensed vocational nurse to registered nurse track.

For more information on the COM nursing program, visit www.com.edu/nursing.

Microbiology mini-grant funds ‘virus hunter’ lab

A dozen College of the Mainland students peer into microscopes. Inside each petri dish of neighborhood pond water lurk myriad viruses and bacteria.

They’re looking for just one virus — mycobacteriophage. It’s among the viruses that can infect and kill bacteria in the same family as those that cause tuberculosis and leprosy. This opens up possibilities for using it to treat these debilitating diseases.

“If someone has tuberculosis that’s not responding to antibiotics, these bacteria-specific viruses could be used to attack the bacteria,” said Dr. Jeremy Bechelli, COM biology professor. “Using viruses to kill bacteria is called phage therapy.”

Exploring the virus helps students learn the research process and hopefully find answers to questions scientists are asking about antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases.

A COM Foundation mini grant covered supplies and a small, new COM research lab, which Bechelli calls the “virus hunter research lab.” It’s empowering students to understand science at a different level. They’re not just learning science in a book; they’re going out and doing science and collecting pond and soil samples in our community.

Students are collaborating with other universities including the University of Pittsburg, which will sequence the DNA isolated from their viruses. This means that researchers will map the DNA, which will help to understand these viruses from a genetic level.

Plus, the University of Texas Medical Branch will allow students to use its powerful equipment to photograph the virus.

The opportunity to conduct scientific research is something students usually don’t do until their junior or senior years. However, to participate at COM, freshmen and sophomore students just have to enroll in a biology class and volunteer to help.

For more information about COM Foundation, visit www.com.edu/foundation.

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