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Research opportunity helped Currens pursue medicinal chemistry

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Emily Currens ’19 has packed a lot into her two years at Monmouth College.

A junior transfer from Rock Valley College in her hometown of Rockford, Ill., Currens hit the ground running at Monmouth, conducting research during the College’s three-week summer research program held before the start of classes in the fall of 2017.

A 4.0 student at Rock Valley, Currens received associate degrees in both the arts and the sciences, but one thing she didn’t gain was research experience.

“We didn’t have any opportunities for that at Rock Valley, so when I was looking at colleges to transfer to, I was really overwhelmed by all the opportunities at Monmouth,” said Currens. “I was glad to get started on research right away and learn a lot of new skills.”

Currens now works in Monmouth chemistry professor Laura Moore’s lab. She has also developed other skills through attending meetings of the American Chemical Society. She presented last year in New Orleans and recently returned to campus from presenting in Orlando, Fla.

In addition to her studies and her work in the chemistry lab, Currens has continued her passion for music through the Fighting Scots Marching Band and the Monmouth Winds. She’s also a resident assistant this school year, which she says “has helped build my leadership skills.”

Last summer, Currens had another intensive academic opportunity, participating in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at St. Louis University. The experience not only helped Currens discern what she might want to do after Monmouth, but also where she might want to do it.

“The REU really helped me consider graduate school even more,” said Currens, who plans to pursue a doctorate in medicinal chemistry. “It helped me narrow down what I wanted to do. It was amazing to be in a graduate school environment, doing independent research. It was very hands-on, which I really appreciated.”

Currens’s research at St. Louis involved synthesizing compounds into cancer cells. When the compounds were exposed to ultraviolet light, a toxic chemical would kill the cells.

“Medicinal chemistry is a very applicable part of the chemistry field,” said Currens, who has been accepted to both St. Louis University and Northern Illinois University for graduate school. “It involves synthesizing different molecules and creating potential drugs to help solve some type of issue. I like to work on something that has a purpose and know that what I’m doing will really mean something.”

Currens will soon make her graduate school choice. When she starts the five-year doctoral program in July, she won’t be quite as rushed to make her next decision – what to do with her doctorate.

“I’m considering going into teaching, preferably at a smaller school like Monmouth,” she said. “I’m also thinking about a lab management position or working in industry.”