Committed Faculty, Culture of Research and Grounding in Liberal Arts Help Chemistry, Biochemistry Students Thrive

August 31, 2015


As an incoming student, Matthew Crawford ’16 was a bit skeptical about majoring in biochemistry at a liberal arts college — that is, until he took his first chemistry course at Stonehill College. “Right away, I discovered that Stonehill’s science program is incredible. The classes are small, the facilities — such as the Shields Science Center — are amazing, and the faculty have unbelievable connections that can really help with graduate school.”

What sealed the deal for chemistry major Ruby Miller ’17 was the ability to get involved with research right away. “I was a transfer student, and when I was accepted, they let me know about the Balfour grant, which gave me a stipend to do research the summer before I started classes,” Miller recalls.

Robert Rosa ’14, a former biochemistry major who’s now a research assistant at Harvard Medical School, appreciated the quality of the instruction. “I learned so many different hands-on techniques through the labs, which was crucial,” he says. “In fact, my boss told me that experience made my resume stand out.”

 

“I learned so many different hands-on techniques through the labs, which was crucial. In fact, my boss told me that experience made my resume stand out.”
Roberto Rosa ’14, research assistant, Harvard Medical School

Such resources and experiences have long served as a formula for success for Stonehill students who earn degrees in chemistry and biochemistry. Graduates have secured placements in top PhD programs, launched success careers as science teachers and applied their degrees in the worlds of business and law.

Graduate School Experience for Undergraduates

In addition to extensive research opportunities, students here also benefit from the College’s exclusive focus on undergraduates. Chemistry and biochemistry majors are able to use state-of-the-art instrumentation, such as a high-field nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer and an ultra-performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometer. “At other schools, these tools are often only available to faculty and graduate students,” notes Louis Liotta, Chemistry Department chair.

The hands-on experience in labs with sophisticated instruments teaches more than just technique, according Professor Marilena Hall, director of the Biochemistry Program. “Students come out with a lot of problem-solving abilities. You have to be creative, because you encounter problems all the time and have to figure out how to solve them,” says Hall.

Kristin DePeaux ’14 says it definitely gave her an edge when she began her career. “I worked one-on-one with my thesis adviser to design experiments and analyze data,” says Kristin, who is now a research associate at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “My work at Stonehill allowed me to graduate with a wide range of skills that gave me a competitive edge in the work force.”

100 Percent of Courses Taught by Professors

Stephanie Murray ’13, a chemistry PhD candidate at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says she benefited by learning research from faculty rather than graduate students. “Because there are no graduate students at Stonehill, you work on research directly with your professor. Stonehill professors really care and want you to do well.”

In her case, her professors encouraged her to pursue summer research beyond campus. “I had done SURE between my sophomore and junior years,” she explains. Short for the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience, it’s a program similar to the Balfour grants, in which students are paid to conduct research over the summer. “I was going to do SURE again, but my professors said, ‘No. Now you need to go on to someplace bigger.’ They encouraged me to apply for the Amgen Scholars Research Program. I was accepted and spent the summer doing research at University of California, Berkeley. I never would have done that without their help.”

Liotta explains that Stonehill faculty want that one-on-one interaction with undergraduates. “That’s why they teach here,” he says. Liotta also feels that majoring in chemistry or biochemistry at Stonehill offers another huge advantage: a rich background in the liberal arts. “At Stonehill, we say that we’re educating students for life,” he says. “A career is part of life, but only part. To me, the real importance of a liberal arts education is understanding what makes people tick as humans.”

Adds DePeaux, “I took an intro to sociology course which led to a few other electives that I loved. It tapped into a completely different passion that I could learn about without feeling like I was sacrificing studies in my major because this exploration was encouraged at Stonehill.”

“At Stonehill, we say that we’re educating students for life, a career is part of life, but only part. To me, the real importance of a liberal arts education is understanding what makes people tick as humans.”
Louis Liotta, Chemistry Department chair

Strong Outcomes Affirm Programs’ Value

All of these things together produce a winning program that produces results. “We have data going back 15 years,” Liotta concludes. “I can tell you that 40 percent of students have gone on to earn PhDs at top graduate schools — all with full scholarships and living stipends. Ten percent have gone on to medical or dental school, while 40 percent have gone right into the workforce, including high school teaching. The remainder of them have gone on to graduate programs both in the sciences and not — in fields such as forensics, nursing, physician’s assistant, law and business.”

Bottom line: Chemistry and biochemistry students and alumni say the personal attention makes all the difference. “It’s impossible to fall through the cracks,” says Matthew Crawford. “Faculty members know you inside and outside of the classroom.” In his case, those close connections made it possible for him to spend a semester abroad in Granada, Spain, and still stay on track to graduate in four years.

“We go to great lengths to work with students so they can do what they want to do — whether it’s switch majors, play a varsity sport or go abroad,” says Hall. “No matter what it is, we make it work.”