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From GED to PhD: Borough of Manhattan Community College's Brian Olson Faces Academic Deficits Only to Be Rewarded with Acceptance to CUNY's PhD Program in Biochemistry
Date:5/17/2011

NEW YORK, May 17, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Brian Olson didn't exactly fit the image of an academic superstar when he entered BMCC in 2002—and he'll be the first to admit it. "I had just a GED and was ineligible for a senior college," he says. "I tested into remedial math."

With a vague notion that he wanted to study science "and learn what humans are made out of," Olson enrolled in basic chemistry and biology courses as a freshman.

"He wasn't quite prepared for the rigors of Chemistry 202," recalls Professor Shanti Rywkin. At one point, he seriously considered dropping out of an organic chemistry course.

Not only did Olson stick with it, he went on to earn an associate degree in Science with Honors and subsequently transferred to Hunter College, where he'll graduate this June with a bachelor's degree in Chemistry. In the fall, Olson will begin work on a PhD in Biochemistry at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Corridor conferences

As Rywkin notes, "Brian had some trouble grasping the material in my Chemistry 202 class, but he wasn't reticent about coming to me for help."

That's the thing about Olson, say the professors to whom he turned time and again for moral support and mentoring during his two years at BMCC. Driven by a natural curiosity, a strong work ethic and a determination to succeed, he would seek out his teachers during office hours and collar them in the corridors.

Asking questions, seeking answers

Rywkin, who hired Olson to tutor at BMCC's Science Learning Center, speaks warmly of her former student. "This isn't someone who just observes and passively takes notes," she says. "Brian was always asking questions and wanting to know why and how. His willingness to do whatever it took to find the answers was what set him apart as a researcher."

"If I had it to do over, I would start at BMCC again," Olson says. "When I needed counseling, tutoring and special help from my teachers, th
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SOURCE Borough of Manhattan Community College
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