Manuel Ackattupathil, Jean Pierre Alvarez and Adelajda Turku.

PARAMUS, N.J. – Bergen Community College students Manuel Ackattupathil, Jean Pierre Alvarez and Adelajda Turku have earned entry into the Governor’s 2020 STEM Scholars Program, an initiative to cultivate, attract and keep top STEM talent in New Jersey. Selected from approximately 500 applicants with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from across the state, the Bergen students represent the only three community college students selected for the program’s 15 spots.

“We were delighted that the only community college students accepted into the program are from Bergen Community College,” STEMatics Grant Program Director Luis DeAbreu said. “We work with very talented students that are capable of amazing things. With funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education, our students are being exposed to resources and opportunities that are very rare at the community college level. We are confident that our three STEM scholars, also members of the STEM Student Scholar Program at Bergen, will help take the name of the institution to new heights.”

The yearlong Governor’s STEM Scholars Program will see the students lead a research project while mentoring high school students from across the state; they will present their projects in May 2020, where the top entry will receive an award. Participants will also attend conferences led by STEM professionals to highlight possible careers in academia and industry for STEM majors throughout the year.

Alvarez, of Rochelle Park, graduated with his associate degree from Bergen, transferred to Rutgers University to major in aerospace engineering and aspires to work for NASA. Starting next month, he will lead a group of high school students to identify the correlation effects of magnetism and its chemical structure. At Bergen, Alvarez participated in the Dr. Judith K. Winn School of Honors, works as a math and science tutor and received the Neil Ender Math Tutoring Award.

“I feel like my dreams are coming true,” Alvarez said. “I am so lucky for being a part of this program and for having been surrounded by such wonderful people that have been there for me through the whole process.”

Ackattupathil, of Hasbrouck Heights, an engineering and math major, hopes to create a “smart cane” that can detect objects within a field of view to assist people the visually impaired as his project as part of the Governor’s STEM Scholars Program. At Bergen, he participates in the internationally renowned Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and serves as president of the STEM Student Union.

“I was shocked when I was selected for the Governor’s STEM Scholars Program,” Ackattupathil said. “There are so many people at Bergen alone who are qualified to receive this award, but I am honored that they selected me.”

Turku, of Elmwood Park, a natural sciences and mathematics major aspires to attend medical school; she recently shadowed pancreatic surgeon Dr. Beth Schrope at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia. Turku also shadowed physicians in a six-week program at Hackensack University Medical Center at Pascack Valley through the Stewart Alexander Summer Internship. As part of the Governor’s STEM Scholars Program, Turku will lead a neuroscience project focusing on the effect of external stimuli on the human brain.

“I feel honored to be a part of this inspiring group of STEM students and thrilled to work on my project at this level,” Turku said. “With hard work, there is a sense of accomplishment, but what also comes along with it is a greater sense to do better and serve others. Being involved with the STEM projects, I found a sense of community that I am determined to re-create wherever I go.”

STEM represents a focus area for Bergen, enrolling more than 2,000 students in programs such as engineering science, computer science and biology. The College opened the STEM Student Research Center this spring as its newest resource to prepare graduates for careers in the country’s most in-demand fields. The center provides students with hands-on educational opportunities through the latest technology in drones, 3D printers and supercomputers.

The Governor’s STEM Scholars Program, a public-private partnership led by the Research & Development Council of New Jersey, the New Jersey Office of the Governor, the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and private industries, provides high-achieving STEM students in grades 10 through the doctoral level with an introduction to New Jersey’s vast STEM economy and to retain that talent in the state. For more information, visit

Based in Paramus, Bergen Community College (, a public two-year coeducational college, enrolls more than 14,000 students at locations in Paramus, the Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center in Hackensack and Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. The College offers associate degree, certificate and continuing education programs in a variety of fields. More students graduate from Bergen than any other community college in the state.

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