Inside USD

Chemistry Students Find Formula for Success

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Every year Creative Collaborations reminds us how undergraduate research can amplify learning and broaden lessons beyond the classroom. Three students in USD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have the chance to take their research one step further with the help of an external grant.

Jeff O’Brien (pictured left), Randall Clendenen (right) and Wendy Guan (center) received Jean Dreyfus Boissevain scholarships, which include a stipend of $4,500, along with funding for housing, research supplies and travel that will fund their summer research and enable them to present at national conferences.

All three students have ambitions of at least earning a master’s degree in chemistry or biochemistry but that was not their original plan. Clendenen is a retired navy chief petty officer; Guan previously studied biological engineering and O’Brien never thought he would major in biochemistry. Each with a unique path to their major, USD’s three Dreyfus scholars urge their fellow students to keep an open mind when selecting a career path.

O’Brien entered USD with a music degree in mind but now he plans to earn a PhD in bioengineering. He will spend the summer working with Peter Iovine, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, researching new ways to modify starches that could potentially be used for drug delivery.

“During the summer, USD turns into a workhouse of research,” said O’Brien, who will graduate in December. “It’s a fun atmosphere. There is a lot of activity in the science building.”

Also interested in medicine, Clendenen first started taking chemistry courses as prerequisites for veterinary school. He soon found himself staying up late solving chemistry problems, and enjoying every minute of it. Forgoing his plan to become a veterinarian, Clendenen now hopes to make a large impact with his research.

“I missed out on the chance to go to school three decades ago,” remembers Clendenen, a sophomore. “Now I want to make a difference. Take some of the blessings I’ve been given and and make the world a better place. Biochemistry is a great way to do that.”

Clendenen and Guan, also a sophomore, will both work with Timothy Clark, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, this summer to research “copper-catalyzed reactions that form carbon-boron bonds, allowing the synthesis of complex molecules such as pharmaceuticals.”  Guan views  this opportunity and upcoming summer as a natural and necessary extension of her time in class.

Guan moved to San Diego from China, and after studying English at UCSD, she transferred to USD to build on her biological engineering education. Attracted to USD’s small class sizes, Guan knows that her research experience will help her career.

“Research builds on the basic techniques you learn in class,” Guan said. “It improves your basic understanding and exposes you to cutting-edge information that is not available in textbooks.”

In addition to their research activities, Guan, Clendenden and O’Brien will be presenters at next year’s Creative Collaborations.  They will also have the opportunity to present their research at national conferences — including an American Chemical Society national meeting.

While O’Brien, Clendenen and Guan have found their own path to USD, all three of them agree that USD was the right fit for them.

Clendenen said it best. “Professors here are genuinely interested in the development of their students. There are one-on-one opportunities that you cannot get anywhere else.”

— Leslie Hammann

Funding from The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc., was awarded to USD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry to support these student scholarships. The student awardees were selected based on several criteria including academic strength, research experience and/or potential as well as an evaluation of their personal statements and letters of recommendation from faculty within and outside of their discipline.

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