Senior Spotlight: Alejandro Ocampo ’20 Credits PRISM with Changing the Course of His Life

Senior Spotlight: Alejandro Ocampo ’20 Credits PRISM with Changing the Course of His Life

Senior Spotlight: Alejandro Ocampo ’20 Credits PRISM with Changing the Course of His Life

Through his steady determination, first-generation college student Alejandro Ocampo '20, balanced school work, exciting research through the Program for Research Initiatives in Science and Math (PRISM), and worked a full-time job as an overnight security guard to earn his bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science from John Jay. But he never tired from the daily grind. "I'm 31 years old, I don't have time to put my goals on hold anymore. I know that at the end of all this hard work, there's going to be something incredible waiting for me." This fall, he'll start a master’s degree program in Biomedical Science at Stony Brook University, and he credits PRISM with putting him on the path to success. “My going to graduate school is a direct result of my time at John Jay and PRISM. They changed the course of my life and put me on a path of success. Without the College and the PRISM program I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

“My going to graduate school is a direct result of my time at John Jay and PRISM. They put me on a path of success. Without the College and the PRISM program I wouldn’t be where I am today.” —Alejandro Ocampo

Enrolling at John Jay
Ocampo will be the first to tell you that college and the field of science weren’t always a part of his future plans. “After high school I began working for TSA [Transportation Security Administration] at LaGuardia Airport and I was making good money. So, I didn’t plan to go college at all,” he says. “But after a while, I wanted more out of life, so I enrolled in a community college where I majored in Criminal Justice, because it aligned with the work I was doing at TSA. Then I transferred to John Jay in hopes of earning my bachelor’s degree.” At John Jay, Ocampo found himself transitioning from criminal justice to the sciences, as his love for science and research began to grow. “I took a General Ed. Science course that completely changed my life,” he says. “After completing the course, I switched to a Forensic Science major and began a four-year degree program. The added time to my college career didn’t bother me because I realized that science and research was the world I was meant to be in.”

Ocampo with his mentor Professor Marta Concheiro-Guisan
Ocampo with his mentor Professor Marta Concheiro-Guisan

“When you’re a student in PRISM, you ‘level up,’ so-to-speak. You’re performing new, exciting research.” —Alejandro Ocampo

Joining the PRISM Program
Ocampo joined PRISM during his junior year at John Jay and was immediately enthralled by the program’s research initiatives, advanced practices, and high expectations. “When you’re a student in the PRISM program, you ‘level up,’ so-to-speak. You’re performing new, exciting research. You’re posing new questions and through experiments, analysis, and testing, finding new answers.” Named PRISM’s Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher of the year, Ocampo credits his mentor, Professor Marta Concheiro-Guisan, Ph.D., for teaching him the skills to perform high-level research. Focusing on Forensic Toxicology, Ocampo and Concheiro-Guisan conducted a research project this year focused on determining the best methods to test for THC, a chemical compound inside marijuana, using placenta. “The goal of our research was to come up with the best extraction method to be able to test for drugs,” explains Ocampo. “Professor Concheiro-Guisan was, and continues to be, a great mentor. She taught me so much during the research process from the different approaches we could take, to the instruments we could use, to how to physically handle a placenta in the lab. She’s equipped me with techniques and strategies that are currently used in the professional field. That was rewarding because it gave me an in-field professional experience and the confidence to know this is the right path for me.” 

“Right now, as a country, we’re living through an incredibly scary time, but I find peace in knowing there are medical professionals and scientists working tirelessly to find a solution and help others.” —Alejandro Ocampo

Looking to the Future
This fall Ocampo will begin a master’s program in Biomedical Science at Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. “It’s funny, because when I think back to where I was a few years ago, I would have never imagined this kind of future for myself,” says Ocampo. “PRISM gave me a solid foundation, the education and the principles to work at such a high level that the transition to graduate work doesn’t seem as daunting.” After he’s done earning his graduate degree, Ocampo hopes to help others by finding new medical solutions and advancing scientific research forward. “My hope is to earn my Ph.D. in Biomedicine and enter the pharmaceutical industry where I can use my research skills to help discover and develop new drugs and treatment plans. Right now, as a country, we’re living through an incredibly scary time, but I find peace in knowing there are medical professionals and scientists working tirelessly to find a solution and help others,” he says. “It’s amazing to me that I can have a future like that where I can make such a difference in the world. And, that’s all because of PRISM and John Jay.”