Barry McNamara  |   Published March 25, 2022

Senior Profile: Matt & Sara Simonson

Twins in College’s chemistry department both headed to graduate school.

SIMILAR, BUT DIFFERENT: Twins Matt and Sara Simonson have both studied chemistry at Monmouth and ... SIMILAR, BUT DIFFERENT: Twins Matt and Sara Simonson have both studied chemistry at Monmouth and will attend graduate school, but they're seeking different career paths.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Seniors Matt and Sara Simonson are proof that you can travel a short distance to Monmouth College and still see the world.

Part of the group of seven sets of siblings who enrolled in fall 2018, the twins and graduates of nearby United High School have been off campus numerous times during their four years at Monmouth, most recently spending several days earlier this month in San Diego for the American Chemical Society Spring 2022 Experience.

There, Matt presented his research on the synthesis and characterization of acetaminophen oxidation products, while Sara presented on chemical, enzymatic and electrochemical oxidation of biophenols. Both students work in the lab of chemistry professor Brad Sturgeon.

“I entered (my REU) not really knowing if I wanted to go into research or not. But while I was there, I realized I wanted to pursue research as a grad student.” Sara Simonson


Last summer, Sara spent several weeks at the University of Southern Mississippi as part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates program, also known as an REU. She said the experience was helpful in determining her post-Monmouth plans, which will also take her out of western Illinois.

“I entered it not really knowing if I wanted to go into research or not,” she said. “But while I was there, I realized I wanted to pursue research as a grad student.”


Taking the next step

Sara is still deciding between the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin. Wherever she goes, she plans to pursue a doctorate in chemistry and then take her research skills into industry.

A participant in last year’s Doc Kieft Summer Research Program for select Monmouth chemistry students, Matt has already settled on a graduate school – the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago – but he is leaving his options open with his degree.

“I’ll be getting a dual degree,” he said of his studies in biochemistry and molecular biology. “I’ll be going to med school to become a doctor, but I’ll also be able to be a clinical researcher.”


See the world

Matt has used his status as a Monmouth student to explore the world, participating in school-sponsored academic trips to Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador. As part of the latter trip, he ushered in the first day of his graduation year riding horseback to the top of a volcano.

The children of a Knox College employee, the Simonsons had several college options where the cost of tuition would be waived. They both chose Monmouth, and Matt said he’d do it all over again.

“I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else. I’m definitely happy with my decision. There’s really close faculty and student interaction because of the small class sizes, and there’s a lot of opportunities to go to conferences and do really interesting research with faculty.” Matt Simonson


“I came in not knowing what to expect,” he said. “College was a new experience. But I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else. I’m definitely happy with my decision. There’s really close faculty and student interaction because of the small class sizes, and there’s a lot of opportunities to go to conferences and do really interesting research with faculty. I know all my professors on a first-name basis.”

Throughout their time at Monmouth, the twins have lived at home to provide even further savings for their family. But that hasn’t stopped Matt from getting his own room on campus.

“We have tutors for each of the classes in chemistry, and the tutors get their own office,” said Matt, who helps analytical chemistry students out of his space in Room 340 in the Center for Science and Business. “So, yeah, I’ve got a nice mini-fridge in here, and I’ve taken plenty of naps on that futon over there.”

The office provides Sara a haven on campus, as well, and the twins say they check in with each other frequently over the course of a typical week.

“She’s better at biology, and I’m better at math and time management,” said Matt.

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