Science & Technology

UWF chemistry department achieves high acceptance rate for students attending top 25 professional doctorate programs

The University of West Florida Department of Chemistry recently announced an 88 percent acceptance rate among graduates who applied to doctorate programs. Of those who applied, 43 percent were accepted to top 25 ranked programs.

Of the 26 students who graduated during the 2016-2017 academic year, 14 applied and were accepted to graduate or professional doctorate programs. One chemistry graduate was accepted to a top 10 professional program and three were accepted to top 10 professional doctorate programs. All of the students accepted to top 10 institutions were Chemistry Scholars and involved in undergraduate research with chemistry faculty at UWF.

“We have a long tradition of focusing on preparing our chemistry majors for success in graduate school, professional school and the workplace,” said Dr. Alan Schrock, professor and chair of the chemistry department. “Our chemistry faculty are typically engaging in research with our undergraduates for several years, and this real-life laboratory experience translates into chemistry graduates who are very well prepared for direct employment in the chemistry industry, as well as high levels of success in graduate and professional school.”

Heather Hamilton was accepted to the chemistry doctorate program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, ranked No. 6 by U.S. News and World Report. She was also accepted to the Master of Engineering program at Cornell University, ranked No. 13.

Hamilton, who previously earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from UWF, said she plans to pursue a doctorate in polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she was awarded a full-tuition waiver and research stipend. During her senior year in the chemistry department, she was also awarded a $6,000 NASA-Florida Space Grant Consortium research stipend under the mentorship of Dr. Leonard ter Haar, professor of chemistry.

“As the child of two military officers, my sense of duty to my country and my desire to engage in public service will guide me on my career path,” she said. “Working on a NASA-funded project was quite literally a dream come true. After completing my doctorate, I plan to pursue a post-doctorate opportunity to further broaden my horizons and hone my skillset. Ultimately, I am focused on a career with NASA or another federal agency engaged in materials research.”

Mackenzie Kidd was accepted to the No. 7 ranked University of Florida School of Dentistry, as well as the No. 15 ranked University of Alabama Birmingham School of Dentistry.

Kidd said she plans to attend the University of Alabama Birmingham starting in July. She was awarded a Navy Health Professions Scholarship that will cover the entire cost of dental school, totaling more than $300,000, as well as a $2,200 monthly stipend and a $20,000 signing bonus. Upon her graduation, she will serve in the Navy.

She credits UWF with providing encouragement and opportunities to ensure her success beyond her undergraduate education.

“The wonderful faculty at UWF genuinely care about the success of the students, and I am incredibly thankful for their support,” she said. “They give numerous opportunities to show leadership, teamwork and professional development through research, tutoring and clubs.”

Aaron Mena was also accepted to the University of Illinois as a Virginia Bartow Scholar. He said he plans to pursue a doctorate in materials chemistry. He was awarded the Alliance for School-Based Problem Solving and Intervention Resources in Education, or ASPIRE, Fellowship, the Hannum Fellowship, and the Illinois Sloan University Center of Exemplary Mentoring, or UCEM, Fellowship, totaling more than $50,000 in funding.   Aaron is also an American Chemical Society Scholar.

Mena credits the UWF chemistry department with preparing him to pursue his dream career as a chemist.

“During my time at UWF, I was able to tutor, become a teacher’s assistant and take part in departmental research, which will all prepare me for graduate school in many ways,” he said. “Chemistry majors are some of the luckiest UWF students in regards to student-teacher interaction and research and academic opportunities.”

Lauren Barnes was accepted to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, and Indiana University Bloomington, the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 5 ranked analytical chemistry doctorate programs, respectively. She said she plans to attend Indiana University before pursuing a career in the analytical chemistry industry or the government.

Barnes credits the chemistry department’s “unique, hands-on approach” with providing her the research experience and strong network of support that have been instrumental in preparing her for her next steps.

“Being able to conduct research since I was a freshman has allowed me to build confidence in the lab and allowed me to work on equipment and instruments that undergraduates don’t typically get to handle at larger universities,” she said. “The UWF chemistry department is also very invested in students building professional skills in presenting their research, as well as building a network that you can rely on in the future.”

Amanda Tonnaer was awarded a prestigious McKnight Doctoral Fellowship totaling more than $85,000 over five years, as well as the Grinter Fellowship that provides a $2,000 annual stipend for three years. She was accepted to a top 25 Ph.D. program at Georgia Institute of Technology, but will be attending the graduate chemistry program at the University of Florida.

“I will always credit UWF’s chemistry program and its supportive faculty for my college and future successes,” Tonnaer said. “One factor of the UWF chemistry program that has allowed me to stand out among competitors is the unique opportunity undergraduate students have to research with faculty. Not only are faculty able to provide one-on-one mentoring, but students are also encouraged to learn and proficiently operate advanced instrumentation. This experience, along with the support and guidance of highly knowledgeable faculty members, allowed me to build the skill set necessary for me to be successful in a chemistry Ph.D. program. I am confident in myself and my abilities as a research scientist, and I owe it all to UWF and my advisors.”

For more information about the UWF chemistry department, visit