Sarah Johnson '17 Excels in Prestigious Research Program 

Germany's Research Experience for Undergraduates Welcomes Marist Student

When Sarah Johnson was in eighth grade, her biology teacher would not write her a letter of recommendation to take Honors Level Biology in high school. Johnson, in turn, averaged a 98 in regular-level Biology and was recommended to take Honors Chemistry the following year. After taking AP Chemistry, Johnson realized her love for science. From there, she said, that was it.

Sarah Johnson, Marist College '17At Marist, Johnson is now a senior, double majoring in chemistry and applied math from Fair Haven, New Jersey. During her free time, she is involved in Marist Singers and the Honors Program teaches general chemistry review, works at the Math Lab, and was formerly a lab assistant.

In the past, Johnson has conducted research, but not outside of Marist. During the summer in 2015, she worked at Marist with the LaPietra scholarship, researching for 10 weeks with Drs. Fitzgerald, Nadeau, and Woolridge. Her work ranged from the basics of biochemistry to publishing work regarding data collection to studying the organic compounds of beer and working with the Mill House Brewing Company.

Through Dr. John Galbraith, Johnson heard about the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, based out of Giessan, GeGermanrmany. The REU program is described as “very competitive” with an “extremely low” acceptance rate. When Galbraith asked her if she was interested, she decided to apply during the fall 2015 semester. Johnson described the application process as “almost like applying to college.” She needed letters of recommendation, prior research, a good GPA, and more. Approximately three months later, Johnson received her acceptance notification.

“No students to my knowledge have done this program,” Dr. James Snyder, Johnson’s Honors adviser, said. “She’s really amazing in this regard. I’m so impressed by her ability to go to a foreign country and conduct research.”

It was the idea of traveling to another country that appealed to Johnson. “I saw it as a nice opportunity to study abroad,” Johnson said. “I can’t do it otherwise because I’m a double major.” During the week, she worked from 9 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. and received a monthly stipend with free housing. On the weekends, she was able to travel along with other students in the program. She was able to visit Frankfurt, Berlin, Paris, and a variety of smaller German towns.

The REU program is described as an educational program for undergraduate students between their junior and senior years. It allows them to do research at a larger institution, such as the case with Johnson. Johnson worked on organic research. “I tried to see what other contexts could work,” she explained. “I was trying to make a known synthesis easier, safer, and cheaper.”

Despite the fact that she was one of only two Americans in the REU program, Johnson said that she encountered “few” language barriers. “I was able to learn a little German along the way,” she said. “I think I can safely say that I can order food and understand a menu at a restaurant.”

To conclude the experience, Johnson presented her research to the rest of the program at the end of the summer. Now in her senior year, Johnson is focused on capping, as chemistry capping takes three semesters. This has not daunted her, however, as she recently submitted an abstract from her capping project for a conference in San Francisco.

On top of her double major, Johnson also has a number of requirements to maintain as an Honors student but it has not been too difficult thanks to the advice of Dr. Snyder. “He’s been incredibly understanding,” she said. Snyder had nothing but kind words about Johnson. “Sarah is driven, intelligent, hardworking, and humble,” Snyder said. “She’s a fantastic person and a good citizen of our program. She has high standards for herself and her academics and makes others around her better.”

After gaining her undergraduate degree, Johnson is hoping to earn her PhD. in organic chemistry. She stated that she is “toying” with the idea of either going into industry or becoming a professor.

Snyder sees her as an “amazing” student who will accomplish these goals. “She has a thoroughgoing scientific worldview and this is evident in how she tackles all problems.” he said.

Written by Adriana Belmonte '17

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