For the past 12 years, Chentelle M. Guest has been behind the lens, photographing the many magical moments that take place as couples say “I do.”

“To me, taking pictures where you just see the way people look does not make a good picture. I want for the grandchildren of the people who I photograph on their wedding day to be able to look and say, ‘That’s what’s she was like back then,’ and really see the personality come through in the pictures,” Guest said.

The desire to discover that personality compelled Guest to go back to school and study psychology. She started at New River Community College, graduating with her associate’s degree this spring at the same time as one of her daughters.

“I was very fortunate to have my children young, and I got to stay home with them and raise them. That was incredible. Not everybody gets to do that,” Guest said.

While at New River Community College, a biology professor encouraged Guest to apply for Bridges to Baccalaureate, a partnership between Virginia Tech, New River Community College, and Northern Virginia Community College. The program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, works with students from the Virginia Community College System to increase the number of transfer students pursing degrees and careers in biomedical and behavioral sciences. Students have access to skill-development workshops and a potential research opportunity through the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program (MAOP).  

“I was extremely fortunate that I had the best biology professor at New River, Dr. Cynthia Wynne,” Guest said. “She has such a love for learning, and you can tell that she loves students and wants to see the very best happen to them.”

At Wynne’s suggestion, Guest applied to the MAOP Summer Research Internship and was accepted. Each year, the program hosts interns from around the country to learn research skills and prep for graduate education. The program also provides GRE classes for interns. The Virginia General Assembly provides the funding for the program.

Guest has spent her summer doing research in the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech, looking at the relationship between cognitive intelligence — or the ability to reason — and aggression in children and teenagers.

“I have the most inquisitive mind and questions about everything. It usually bothers people, but to be in a place where not only is that cultivated, but it’s encouraged, I just feel like I’m completely in my element for the first time in my life,” Guest said. “Not loving math, I counted research out for me. But it turns out statistics is a whole different thing — and I love it! I believe it’s about to change the course of my future.”

Before this summer, Guest did not think she would go on to graduate school. “There’s no way I’m not going now. [Bridges to Baccalaureate] is a great program all the way around. I told my biology teacher that I will be back at New River next year, holding up signs saying please do this.”

Beyond setting a new course for her future, Guest has made important connections on Virginia Tech’s campus, which will be her new home this fall as a transfer student.

“I have been nothing short of impressed with Chentelle. I’m hoping that she continues researching here in the fall,” said Susan White, associate professor of psychology and assistant director of the Child Study Center. “I believe you get out of it what you put into it. It’s not like every student that comes in ends in a success story. I don’t do a lot of hand holding, so I think if you’re motivated and you’re willing to risk failure, you will succeed. That’s what we want to see.”

Guest and other MAOP interns will present their research findings at MAOP’s Research Symposium from 8:30 to 12:30 p.m. Friday, July 31, in the Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown at 155 Otey St. NW. Guest also will present her research at the Virginia Tech Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, July 30, in the atrium of Goodwin Hall at 635 Prices Fork Road.