Holly Morris, Dominic Savino and Michelle Tank were three of the five students who participated in an intensive 10-week research program at Monmouth College this summer. In back are chemistry faculty members Brad Sturgeon, Audra Sostarecz and Eric Todd.
The absence of the late Doc Kieft is felt on the Monmouth College campus every day, but the legacy of the beloved chemistry professor who died last year lives on in many ways, including an intensive research experience that five students enjoyed this summer.
The 10-week program was funded not only through the Richard “Doc” Kieft Summer Research Program, but also through the Jean Cheng Go Endowment and funds from assistant professor of chemistry Brad Sturgeon’s Research Corporation grant.
“In conversations with Doc in the past years, he always stressed the importance of students getting hands-on experience and really thinking about chemistry,” said assistant professor of chemistry Audra Sostarecz.
In addition to working on their research projects with Sturgeon, Sostarecz and assistant professor of chemistry Eric Todd, the students traveled to the University of Iowa to use some of its analytical instrumentation. They also took a trip to Abbott Labs in Chicago, where Angie Morris, a senior from Knoxville, was doing her research internship. The latter trip was sponsored by Paul David ’84, who is the associate director of global analytical research and development at Abbott.
“This was an amazing opportunity for the students to see what it is like to work in an industrial research setting in the area of pharmaceuticals,” said Sostarecz.
Abbott employs both chemistry and biology majors, and Sostarecz said the company stressed the importance of their future employees having experience working with analytical instrumentation.
“Attending small liberal arts colleges like Monmouth affords students the opportunity to work hands-on with top-of-the-line instrumentation,” she said.
Sostarecz said the remainder of her summer was spent mentoring one of her research students, Holly Morris, on a project involving the use of synthetic peptides in cystic fibrosis therapy.
“I enjoyed summer research because I was able to accomplish a lot of research on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to the usual three-hour sessions done during the school year,” said Morris, who is Angie’s twin sister. “I gained a lot of troubleshooting skills with our equipment and learned different ways to analyze and interpret data and how to research and read scientific literature better.”
Michelle Tank, a senior from Belvidere, agreed.
“I enjoyed working in a relaxed lab atmosphere and at my own pace. I learned how to problem solve pretty quickly because things often didn’t go the way we had planned, and we had to figure out how to make it work. It was a great overall experience, and I’m very glad I got the chance to do it.”
Tank and Charrina Crawford, a senior from Monmouth, worked on separate projects involving fluoroquinones and polyamides.
“In reality, though, they did work on both projects, which allowed them to work collaboratively and to experience the widest range of science,” said Todd. “By the end of the summer Michelle took more ownership of the fluoroquinone project and Charrina took ownership of the polyamide project, which she is continuing to work on and will be presenting at the national American Chemical Society meeting.”
The fluoroquinones are also going to be investigated by students in Sturgeon’s group, adding another interdisciplinary dimension to the summer projects.
“I am most excited about the summer research program because it provides students an immersive experience that emulates what it is like to be a chemist in industry or graduate school,” said Todd. “Students taking part in summer research not only learn chemistry but contribute to scientific knowledge, building on previous results and making discoveries that will themselves be built on by future students.”
Also participating in the summer research were Dominic Savino, a senior from Des Plaines, and Ramon Ceja, a junior from Galesburg. All of the students working in the three chemistry faculty labs this summer also engaged in a research group meeting at which they discussed the same paper, thus bringing together all aspects of each individual research project.
“The students commented how they enjoyed hearing the faculty talk about the paper while we all ate pizza,” said Sostarecz. “It is nice for students to see faculty in this casual, yet educational, setting.”
It was a scene that surely would have made Doc Kieft proud.