Science & Technology

UWF Chemistry Scholars explore post-graduate opportunities at MIT

Three University of West Florida Chemistry Scholars students recently attended the DOW-MIT ACCESS program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Seniors Karl Reyes, Pristine Kirkconnell and Cathlene Del Rosario spent time on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, as well as surrounding areas. The all-expense paid trip allowed them to interact with graduate students, members of the admissions committee and program participants while meeting some of the world’s leading faculty in the fields of chemistry, chemical engineering and materials science and engineering. This year, UWF was the only institution in the chemistry program to have three students representing their University.

This weekend-long experience allowed the UWF chemistry students to not only immerse themselves in the field of chemistry with top researchers, but it also allowed them to demystify the process of becoming a graduate student.

“They gave us so many opportunities to network and gain insight from the experiences of the people around us,” Del Rosario said. “We were also able to interact with admissions committee members at MIT to better understand the kind of students that graduate programs across the nation are interested in.”

The students also had the opportunity to speak with Anthony Rojas, a Pensacola native who is currently in graduate school at MIT. Rojas worked closely with them during their visit, providing insight to the application process and advice.

As part of the program, participants were asked to give a two-minute presentation on research they had either conducted or in which they were interested. Through this, the students were able to develop their skills as researchers and presenters before they potentially enter the field as graduate students and professionals.

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The preparation offered by the ACCESS program coincided with many initiatives that the students had already been exposed to through the UWF chemistry department and Chemistry Scholars Program. Unlike many of the other students in attendance from other schools who presented research plans for the future, the students from UWF presented original research.

“It was overwhelmingly clear how positive the audience and faculty response was to UWF’s presentation,” said Kirkconnell, crediting UWF’s chemistry department for their performance.

Aside from the ACCESS program, the students have had opportunities to attend conferences and present their research in Seattle, Washington; San Antonio, Texas; and, this spring, San Diego, California.

Programs like these produce competitive applicants and allow students to be a part of an environment where they are comfortable to make the decision to transition to graduate school.

“At UWF, they really build us up and structure our education to be ready in a professional field and to be ‘hard-hitters’ when it comes to being graded and reviewed among our peers,” said Reyes.

This spring is the students’ final semester at UWF. They are currently waiting to hear back from several PhD and MD/PhD graduate programs. Kirkconnell was recently accepted to the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign, the No. 6 PhD chemistry program, according to US News.

The students are UWF Chemistry Scholars and were mentored throughout the program to apply and prepare their presentations. The UWF Chemistry Scholars Program was established in September 2011 to recruit and retain high-achieving chemistry students and to increase the number of chemistry students pursuing PhD or MD-PhD degrees, both with an emphasis on under-represented students. Students involved in the program meet monthly to hear guest speakers discuss summer research programs and post-baccalaureate opportunities, receive career advice, participate in peer-to-peer mentoring and receive professional development and mentoring from faculty in the Department of Chemistry.

To learn more about the UWF Department of Chemistry, please visit