New bio lab opens to accommodate EMCC’s record enrollment

October 28, 2019

Estrella Mountain Community College’s (EMCC) bio lab could not have arrived at a better time as enrollment has hit a record-breaking 10,000-plus!

“We really needed the lab space, our labs are always booked,” Life Sciences Professor Dr. Jarod Raithel said.

The new lab is in Room 122 in Montezuma Hall. The space, which previously housed the Phi Theta Kappa office, was completely renovated over the summer.

“The plan was to have it ready by Fall semester, but it was a lot of work, so we didn’t know if we should schedule classes,” Dr. Raithel said. “But Facilities did it, they pulled it off. It was amazing.”

In addition to the lab itself, which features gas hookups, refrigerators, and incubators for biology students, a designated area was also constructed for undergraduate research. The space is used primarily by cellular and molecular students studying genetics.

“Before, our student researchers were kind of all over the place,” Dr. Raithel said. “So now we have a dedicated space for undergraduate student research.”

A dedicated space was also built to house food for EMCC’s collection of critters, which reside just next door in Room 125. But that’s not all. The snakes, lizards, and turtles that EMCC’s student Animal Ambassadors take to outreach events also got new digs.

“I wanted a showcase for the animals,” Dr. Raithel said.

So he designed, and along with his students, constructed all new enclosures over the summer.

“We were in here for about two solid weeks,” he said.

The enclosures feature many upgrades such as waterproof heat mats underneath the reptiles’ bedding, each wired to a different thermostat.

“So we can independently control each enclosure’s temperature because different species have different needs temperature-wise,” Dr. Raithel said. 

He and his students also connected each reptile light to a timer to keep each enclosure’s temperature constant.

“It makes me feel a lot more comfortable because we have so much fluctuation in temperature over the summer,” he said. “We’ve got the air conditioning running and it’s 70 degrees in here and then it’s shut off Thursday night, so Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it’s 115 so you can’t have basking lamps turned on. We were always having to come up here and turn lights off and worried about the animals, and now, we can control everything.”

The new enclosures have allowed Dr. Raithel to grow the Animal Ambassador program, recently adding ornate box turtles, a leopard gecko, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and even a couple of Holland Lop bunnies to the mix.

“We needed some warm-blooded cuddly animals in our collection,” said Asha Edjang, a student Animal Ambassador on a WASEO (Western Alliance for the Expansion of Science Opportunity) grant. “We were going to get a hedgehog, but they’re spiny enough that we wouldn’t have been able to let little kids hold it when we took it to outreach events.”

All of this growth has had a huge domino effect, resulting in the hiring of new science faculty and student workers.

“We have four WASEO scholars and two WIRCCS scholars,” Dr. Raithel said, referring to students who receive stipends from Western Alliance for the Expansion of Science Opportunity grants and Works Internships Ready Community College Students scholarships. “But now we have four federal work-study students, as well. We didn’t have any of those before. It’s all really exciting.”

Interested in attending EMCC? Registration for the spring 2020 semester is currently underway. EMCC offers a variety of associate degrees and certificates and partners closely with Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and University of Arizona, as well as more than 40 out-of-state, private, and online colleges and universities, for transfer programs. Classes can be taken in person, online, or in a hybrid format. To begin your journey, visit