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Learning to learn: Pat Corrigan '13

Barry McNamara
05/01/2013
It’s easy to understand why senior Pat Corrigan pays a little extra attention to the details as he listens to one of his Monmouth College chemistry professors speak during class. One day, in the not too distant future, Corrigan hopes to be the one lecturing and leading experiments.
 
“I want to be a professor eventually,” he said. “I’m going to grad school at Penn State University.”
 
Corrigan was helped in that process by a Penn State graduate, associate professor of chemistry Audra Sostarecz. It was not the first time that Monmouth’s talented chemistry staff had made an impact on his college experience.
 
“All the professors have helped me along the way,” Corrigan said. “They’ve helped me make business contacts and other contacts. I’ve worked with pretty much everyone in the department. Laura Moore is my adviser. I worked with Eric Todd on my polymer research, and I worked with Brad Sturgeon on an electroplating project.”
 
The polymer research is Corrigan’s primary focus, an activity he plans to continue to pursue at Penn State.
 
“Polymers are pretty much everywhere,” he said. “They’re in rubbers and plastics. A lot of the science with polymers is fine tuning them to get the properties desired for what they’re being used for.”
 
Another goal of polymer research is to make products as inexpensively as possible. Along those lines, Corrigan has focused on converting sugars and mint oil into polymeric structures.
 
That economic principle touches on the discipline integration behind the college’s new Center for Science and Business, a concept that Corrigan fully understands.
 
“Absolutely, I do,” he said. “The more I talk to chemists in the field, the more I hear about how important it is to work with a business sense. The cost of a process definitely plays into whether or not it can be produced. And also, if your science isn’t funded, you can’t do your research.”
 
Corrigan has been exposed to chemists outside of Monmouth on several occasions, most notably through trips to the national conference of the American Chemical Society the past two years. He traveled with a Monmouth group to San Diego in 2012 and just returned last month from the 2013 conference, which was held in New Orleans. He presented two posters at the latter event and was able to listen to other research presentations, as well.
 
“I enjoy the national conferences, because you get to see what is going on in the real world,” said Corrigan.
 
Back at Monmouth, Corrigan has enjoyed all the chemistry classes he’s taken, but he pointed to organic chemistry as one that, “early on, gave me a way to think about things differently and solve problems.”
 
In general, he added, he has had to “carry out reactions in his research. I have to think about what was going on in those reactions. I needed to step away from the beaker and figure out the environment that the research was being conducted in, making sure that the project would go well.”
 
As a senior at Peoria Notre Dame High School, Corrigan knew chemistry was his desired path in college, but he didn’t know exactly where to go. Although his parents – Robert Corrigan ’80 and Mary Alexander Corrigan ’82 – graduated from Monmouth, it wasn’t their influence that ultimately convinced him to attend their alma mater.
 
“I decided to visit Monmouth, and the campus spoke to me,” he said. “It felt like a community, and I was very impressed by the way that the professors and students reached out to me.”
 
When he’s not busy taking the steps to become a professor himself, the Phi Delta Theta member and Alternative Spring Break participant has enjoyed taking non-science courses, particularly a jazz appreciation course his sophomore year.
 
“That opened up a whole new genre to me that I’d never appreciated,” he said. “Now I really enjoy Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis and some of the newer artists like Medeski Martin & Wood.”
 
His “Principles of Economics” class with professor Ken McMillan was also a favorite, helping drive home some of the business concepts that today’s scientists need to know.
 
“I would definitely say that I’ve become a lot better student,” concluded Corrigan, when asked to compare himself today to his senior year at Notre Dame. “A lot of that is due to Monmouth’s nurturing environment. I’m also a better leader, and I work with people better. I’ve grown up a lot since I’ve been here.”