Campus Life

Chemistry student wins national award at conference

University of West Florida (UWF) student Mitra Vashi won a national Polymer Excellence Award for Undergraduate Research at the spring 2012 National American Chemical Society (ACS) Meeting and Exposition in San Diego, Calif. Vashi was presenting the results of the research team lead by Tim Royappa, professor in the Department of Chemistry.

“I had the opportunity to present my research alongside students from places like Harvard and Yale,” said Vashi. “At first I was intimidated to talk about my research, but as we discussed it, I realized their research was not more difficult than mine. We were all very humbled by the opportunity and had a mutual respect for each other’s work.”

Vashi graduated May 5 with a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry and plans to pursue a career as a sales representative for medical devices or at a pharmaceutical company. She is one of 12 chemistry students from UWF who presented their research at the ACS meeting. The students were mentored in their research by five faculty members from the Department of Chemistry.

Beyond the recognition of awards, the conference provided the students with an opportunity to network with potential employers, meet undergraduates from institutions around the nation and discuss their research with fellow scientists.

“Presenting their research at a national conference is an invaluable learning experience for our students,” said Karen Molek, assistant professor of chemistry at UWF. “Knowledge is only useful when it’s adequately communicated and all of these students will eventually have to give presentations in their future careers, whether in the medical field, sales, academia or industry.”

Rebecca Chandler, who has been doing research for three semesters with professor Michael Huggins in the UWF Department of Chemistry, said that she enjoyed the collaborations she formed with fellow undergraduate students from other institutions.

“The relationships I formed with students from other schools turned out to be surprisingly valuable because they were able to give me ideas on how to improve my project,” said Chandler. “Prior to attending the conference, I knew I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry, but my decision was solidified by attending the career fair and seeing graduate students present their research in organic chemistry.  Now I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

“There were numerous opportunities for undergraduates to learn how to apply to graduate school, what to expect in graduate school and how to succeed as a graduate student ,” said Giovanni DeLuca, another student who presented. “I also had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with industrial chemists from large corporations and ask them questions about their job responsibilities.”

Other chemistry students who presented their research at the conference were Cholena Russo, Brandon Burnette, Georgia Boles, Amy Renaud, Janae Baptiste, Dylan Christiansen, Josh Brown and Noel Jones. Drs. Fred Hileman, Pam Vaughan, Karen Molek, Tim Royappa and Michael Huggins were the research mentors working with the students. The students secured funding for the trip from the UWF Student Government Association, College of Arts and Sciences, chemistry department, the Honors Program and Office of Undergraduate Research, as well as the local and national ACS divisions.