Page 11 - Marist Magazine Winter 2011-2012

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trong faculty-student bonds and qual-
ity undergraduate research have long
been hallmarks of Marist College’s School of
Science. This past year, thanks to a fund estab-
lished by Mrs. Barbara LaPietra to honor her
late husband’s 41 years of service as a chem-
istry professor and mentor, a new program
is enriching this experience for some Marist
undergraduate science majors.
The mission of the Dr. J. Richard LaPietra
’54 Sponsored Student Research Fund To
Enhance Excellence in Chemistry Studies—
to underwrite top chemistry students pursuing
scientific research with faculty members, with
the aim of presenting and/or publishing in a
national forum—so inspired School of Science
faculty that a second, similar award was estab-
lished with institutional funding and a goal of
benefiting any science major.
This decision formalized Marist’s Summer
Student Research Program, whereby students
are competitively awarded a generous stipend
for 10 weeks of full-time, faculty-sponsored
summer research. The first recipients of these
research stipends are chemistry major and
LaPietra researcher Coleen Nemes ’13 and envi-
ronmental science major and Marist researcher
Seth Brittle ’12.
School of Science Interim Dean Neil
Fitzgerald answered the following questions
about Marist’s Summer Student Research
Program.
Why is this a significant program?
Undergraduate research done collaboratively
with faculty members, at such a high level and
in such a sustained way, gives our students
a great advantage when applying to gradu-
ate school, professional school, and scientific
positions in industry. It enables students to
put theory into practice, to hone their prob-
lem-solving skills, and to gain in confidence.
Because stipends are now available, these future
of predicting the spin states of larger transi-
tion metal clusters,” says Galbraith. “Transition
metal clusters are important because of their
possible catalytic activity.” Catalysts are signifi-
cant in many industrial processes, from energy
processing to food processing to bulk chemical
production. One estimate had catalytic process-
es annually generating $900 billion in products
worldwide.
The pair collaborated with Glen Ferguson,
a 2004 Marist graduate who received his PhD
at Indiana University and currently holds a
postdoctoral position at Argonne National
Laboratory.
Nemes says her favorite part of the project
was analyzing the results of their calculations
and then pondering their significance. “These
times required looking at things in a way I never
had to before,” she says. “In all my prior chem-
istry classes, everything taught was for the most
part common knowledge for any chemist. With
research you are looking at things that are fresh
and still a mystery. For instance, the high spin
states in small transition metal clusters we were
looking at are not in any chemistry book.”
Galbraith says it’s exciting for students
to transition from learning from the body of
knowledge established by people before them
to being one of the people who contributes
to that body of knowledge. “Coleen did very
well this summer. It did not take her long to
become independent and direct the project in
new, unforeseen directions. I believe that she
will have her pick of top graduate programs.”
During the summer, Nemes presented find-
ings at a conference at Bucknell University.
“Coleen shows the ability and temperament to
be an excellent chemist,” says School of Science
Interim Dean Neil Fitzgerald, who is himself a
chemist. “Presenting her research this summer
gave Coleen the confidence to know that the
work she is doing can stand shoulder-to-shoul-
der with research work of others on a national
stage.” The research team is continuing its work
and hopes to have a manuscript for publication
by early 2012.
The dean praised the LaPietra Fund for
allowing future generations of students the
financial freedom to devote their summer to
a research project. “Many students will look
back on this experience as a defining point in
their professional lives.”
As the first faculty-sponsored summer
researcher to carry on the legacy of Dr. J.
Richard LaPietra, Coleen Nemes might well
agree. Calling her experience “a gateway into
so many possibilities,” she says, “I hope Mrs.
LaPietra knows how much this can impact a
student’s life.”
As the wife of a dedicated chemist and
master teacher, Barbara LaPietra does indeed
know. “This is a gift Richard would have
embraced.”
n
Shaileen Kopec is Marist’s senior development
officer for planned giving and endowment support.
scientists don’t have to choose between typi-
cal summer jobs they need to pay for college
and great opportunities to do research in their
fields.
Howwould you rate the faculty-sponsored
research activities at Marist this summer?
The summer research program was a wonder-
ful success. The students were involved in real
research, presented results on a national stage,
collaborated with high-quality research insti-
tutions—Argonne National Laboratory and
Wright State University—and are in a posi-
tion to be coauthors of peer-reviewed scientific
publications. It gave these students a taste of
scientific research (both the challenges and
successes) and a glimpse into the exciting world
of scientific discovery.
What motivates faculty to help students
like Coleen and Seth?
School of Science faculty members have always
been student-focused and motivated to provide
the best possible educational experience for our
students. Seeing students like Coleen and Seth
learn and mature over the course of an expe-
rience like this is very rewarding for faculty
members and builds bonds between faculty and
students that often last well after graduation.
What are your hopes for the future
in this area?
I hope we can expand this program and give
more top students a chance to excel and to
elevate their professional sights. To do so, we
need the financial support of science gradu-
ates and other alumni, as well as parents and
friends, who recognize the great value of this
experience. Underwriting a research stipend
for just one summer can change a student’s life
forever. And that future Marist graduate could
ultimately change the lives of so many others,
for the better.
n
Marist’s New Summer Research Stipends
Maximize Opportunities for Science Majors
Using crayfish as a model ,
environmental science major
Seth Brittle ’12 has been
doing collaborative research
with Associate Professor of
Environmental Science Zofia
Gagnon on the toxicological
effects of silver nanoparticles
in the environment.