Undergraduate Spotlight Round-Up: Where are they now??

We have previously featured several undergraduate students to celebrate their unique experiences and amazing accomplishments within the Department of Chemistry. Recently, we checked in with some of these students to learn more about what they have been up to since being featured. Read on to find out what these bright minds are doing now!


Matthew Birnbaum

As an undergraduate student, Matt conducted research in the lab of Dr. Simon Blakey, served as co-editor-in-chief of the Emory Undergraduate Research Journal, and participated in both the Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory (SIRE) program and the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program. Now, Matt works as a Research Associate at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc in New York, where he focuses on genomic engineering technologies.

Click [here] to read his spotlight!


Carolyn Cohen

In her senior year at Emory, Carolyn received the 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Student Research Fellowship, which she was able to apply towards her current graduate studies in chemistry at Stanford University. She works in the lab of Dr. Noah Burns, whose research “explores the boundaries of modern organic synthesis”.

Click [here] to read her spotlight!


Ryan Fan

In 2016, Ryan wrote about his “Summer in Siena”, where he discussed his wonderful experience traveling abroad with activities ranging from studying chemistry to climbing the Basilica to see the view of Rome’s skyline. Now a junior, Ryan is preparing to take the MCAT this summer and is looking forward to starting with Teach for America in August 2019.

Click [here] to read his story!


Juan D. Cisneros

Juan, a chemistry and Spanish double major, wrote for The Lab Report about his experiences studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain and working in the lab of Dr. Daniel J. Mindiola at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, Juan is a Research Like A Champion (RLAC) investigator with the Harper Cancer Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame.

Click [here] to read his spotlight and [here] to read his story!


Sunidhi Ramesh

When Sunidhi was featured in the first semester of her sophomore year, she was working on earning her double major in Neuroscience and Sociology, while also volunteering as a chem mentor. Since then, she has spent some time pursuing neuroethics, working with the Atlanta Journal Constitution on race relations, and volunteering with several organizations. In the Fall, she will be attending Thomas Jefferson University for medical school.

Click [here] to read her spotlight and [here] to check out her AJC feature!


Julia Gensheimer

When we featured Julia last March, she was a few months away from a summer research experience in the Ahmed lab studying cancer immunology. A year later, Julia has continued her research in the Ahmed lab and is about a year away from graduating with her degree in chemistry.

Click [here] to read her spotlight!


Carli Kovel

We featured Carli for her research in the MacBeth lab and travel abroad experience in Sienna about a month before she was named as one of Emory’s Bobby Jones Scholars. At the time of her spotlight, Carli wasn’t sure what the future would hold. Now, Carli is looking forward to spending the next year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland studying catalysis and “green chemistry”.

Click [here] to read her spotlight!


 

 

 

Graduate Student Spotlight: Tamra Blue Carries on the Family Legacy

For 38 years, Tamra Blue’s grandmother worked in food service at Emory so that her daughter, Tamra’s mother, could attend school here. So, when the time came for Tamra to apply to graduate school, Emory was at the top of her list. When she got her offer of admission, she remembers thinking, “I got into Emory. Emory University! That’s amazing!” And even though she had offers from several other universities, Emory had something that the others didn’t: Legacy. In fact, Tamra was so sure that she wanted to come here that she accepted her offer before recruitment weekend had even begun!

Tamra, her mother, her grandmother, and her aunt.

Tamra grew up in Lithonia, about half an hour’s drive from campus. She attended Georgia State for her undergraduate studies where she originally planned on studying biology. “While doing my biology degree, I had to take the equivalent of getting a minor in chemistry,” says Tamra. “I realized I really like chemistry.” She then began tutoring and teaching chemistry to other students, doing research in a chemistry lab, and falling even more in love with the subject. These experiences convinced her to go ahead with changing her major, and she never looked back.

In the lab of Dr. Suazette Reid Mooring, Tamra worked on synthesizing small-molecule CXCR4 antagonists. CXCR4 has been linked to breast cancer metastasis through a process whereby the CXCR4 transports cancerous cells around the body in pursuit of its high-affinity ligand, CXCL12. She used a metaphor to explain that the process of CXCR4-mediated metastasis is similar to a man driving his car to meet his wife, but with a serial killer in the trunk! “One of the ways we found to stop this or slow down this process is by making it so that CXCR4 has a higher affinity toward some other molecule,” she explains. “And we make that molecule.” Emory once again intersecting Tamra’s path, the molecules synthesized in the Reid Mooring lab are screened here at Emory in collaboration with Dr. Hyunsuk Shim in the Department of Radiation Oncology.

Tamra and her grandmother at her graduation.

The enthusiasm with which Tamra explains her research highlights not only her love for the subject, but also her passion for teaching. Her goal, after earning her PhD, is to get a job at a four year college where she can teach and mentor students. She remembers learning a statistic about the significant decline in mental health of individuals pursuing advanced degrees and is hoping to use her own degree to become a valuable resource for those people.

Her desire to interact with and help others extends even beyond the realm of teaching. “I just like talking to people!” she says as she explains how she hopes that she can improve someone’s day with something as simple as a smile. In fact, meeting new people is one of the things she is most excited about when she thinks about starting at Emory. “This is a whole different environment from Georgia State,” says Tamra. “Not only do I get to meet some really cool people, but I also get to do some really awesome research.”

Even though she had already accepted her offer to come to Emory, Tamra still took the opportunity to visit the campus for recruitment weekend. She spent the weekend learning all about the diverse research projects going on in the department and meeting as many students and faculty as she could. She particularly liked the faculty trading cards and explained they how were a fun little souvenir that also gave her a chance to really get to know some of the faculty on a more personal level.

Tamra and her mother.

Recruitment weekend only added to Tamra’s already overflowing excitement to follow in her family’s footsteps as a member of the Emory community. “I can’t wait to start discovering something and seeing something new,” says Tamra. Her adventure will kick off this May when she joins the Heemstra Group for a summer rotation. Until then, Tamra is going to keep working,  spending time with her family, and “being ‘weird’ because that’s my normal.”

Graduate Student Spotlight: Shannon Rivera

Sitting in her 6th grade science classroom, as a gallon of milk sat outside warming under the hot Georgia sun, Shannon learned two things. First, she learned about the effects of high temperatures on the properties and states of liquids. And second, she learned that she really, really loved chemistry. She recalls how the hands-on teaching style in her middle school science classroom sparked her enthusiasm for the subject, an enthusiasm which only grew stronger through high school, where she had the chance to serve as a chemistry teacher’s assistant.

Through these experiences, Shannon gained an understanding of how chemistry can shape the world. “Instead of being a giant jumbled puzzle, you could actually figure out the small pieces, start putting it together, and start getting a better picture of what’s really going on,” says Shannon. “Chemistry was definitely challenging, but I loved how these small little pieces would come together and things would click.”

Motivated by her passion for chemistry and encouragement from her teachers, Shannon went on to earn her BS in chemistry from the University of Georgia, where she performed undergraduate research under the guidance of Dr. Ron Orlando. In Dr. Orlando’s lab, Shannon worked on creating a database of N-glycans for different species and designing a method for quantifying different IgG products. During this time, Shannon also had the opportunity to participate in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates where she spent 10 weeks in the lab of Dr. Julio Alvarez studying the use of glutathione as a source of green energy for new batteries.

In the fall of 2014, Shannon began her graduate studies in chemistry here at Emory. She joined the Weinert group, studying how the globin-coupled sensor protein family senses oxygen and transmits the binding signal into downstream events. “I work primarily with proteins from infectious bacteria. The idea behind my research is that if we can understand this one part of this very dangerous bug, then maybe we can create a new treatment method,” says Shannon. “I love working with the proteins I do because they are all heme proteins, so they are all red!”

Since joining the lab, Shannon has contributed to five publications, one as the primary author and two as co-first author. Her most recent publication is a book chapter in Advances in Microbial Physiology currently in press. “Shannon’s talent for research science, combined with her incredible drive, make it a true pleasure to work with her,” says Dr. Weinert. “Shannon’s fearlessness when it comes to trying new techniques has yielded results that have opened new insights into sensor globins and changed the way we think about how organisms sense and respond to oxygen.”

In addition to her scientific achievements, Shannon has also received several honors and awards during her time at Emory. She was awarded the Emory Graduate Diversity Fellowship for demonstrating outstanding academic achievement, the Outstanding Analytical Teacher’s Assistant Award for being the highest rated teacher’s assistant of the year, and the Carl Storm Underrepresented Minority Fellowship to attend the Gordon Research Conference.

Shannon is a member of the Pi Alpha Chemical Society (PACS), chemistry’s graduate student social and service organization. With PACS, she has had the chance to participate in outreach events and develop valuable relationships with her peers and coworkers. In addition, Shannon serves as communications chair and member of the Association for Women in Science at Emory (AWIS). With AWIS, she has participated in science demonstrations for young students at local schools and helped run a booth at the Atlanta Science Festival celebrating famous women scientists. Shannon is also on the board for the Chemistry Graduate School Prep Club, an organization designed to help prepare chemistry undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds for future graduate studies. The prep club works primarily with students at institutions that aren’t currently associated with graduate programs to advise them on furthering their education by providing resources on research opportunities, applications, interviews, preparing for the GRE, and more.

After graduation, Shannon plans to go into industry research, where she is looking forward to leading her own projects.

Student Spotlight: Notes from a Dancing Scientist

Laura Briggs performing their solo, Backtalk. Photo by Lori Teague.

By: Laura Briggs (EC ’19)

Most college students are used to answering the age-old question, “So what are you majoring in?” But people aren’t usually expecting the response, “I’m majoring in chemistry and dance!” Usually, they assume one of two things: 1) I want to dance, but my parents made me take up the chemistry major for job security, or 2) I’m serious about science, and the dance major is “just for fun”. These assumptions are almost always followed by the sarcastic question, “So what are you going to do with that?”

In reality, my parents did not force me to major in chemistry, and I take my dance classes just as seriously as my science classes. And as for the question about my future, I intend to pursue careers in both research science and professional dance. I don’t see why I have to choose between one and the other. At Emory, there are many students who are drawn to both science and the arts, but they struggle with prioritizing their passions and making decisions about what to pursue. My response is that life is much too short to give up something you love, so I have decided not to give up anything I love. My two fields inform each other, forgive each other, and infuse my life with balance, inspiration, and excitement.

You might find it hard to believe, but being a dancer makes me a better scientist. There are many skills that scientists need, but aren’t taught in their undergraduate science classes. Communication skills, interpersonal skills, creative thinking, and versatility are all great qualifications for graduate school, but most science classes reinforce lecture-style learning, independent work, rote memorization, and specificity.

Dance, on the other hand, exercises a completely different part of the brain and a much more widespread skill set. Communication is a vital part of being a dancer, whether you are teaching dance, writing a reflection paper, collaborating with other artists, or just talking about your experience in class. An embodied, experiential discipline built on empathy, dance teaches you to understand other people, be flexible (both physically and mentally), and think outside the box. These skills transfer directly from the studio into the science lab; thanks to my dance major, I am comfortable collaborating, asking for help, communicating my work, and trying new things.

Of course, there are other benefits to having two disparate lives on campus. Dance is a solace from the rigor of academia, too. Nobody will tell you that being a chemistry major is easy, especially when juggling extracurricular responsibilities, lab work, and taking care of my adorable pet lizard Ada Lovelace. But when I step into the studio for dance class every day, I am encouraged to leave everything else at the door and focus on myself, my body, and my artistry. It’s self-indulgent in a healthy and necessary way. After I leave the studio, sweaty and satisfied, I can return to the chemistry building refreshed and ready to study again.

The biggest takeaway from my time as a double-major is that no one should have to compromise one passion for the sake of pursuing another. In fact, having multiple equally-demanding facets to your life can be rich and exciting. So next time someone tells you that they’re majoring in chemistry and dance, or environmental science and religion, or computer science and classics, don’t raise your eyebrows! Instead, celebrate the fact that we go to a school where you can do both, and encourage those students to keep being interesting, pushing boundaries, and seeking connections.


Laura Briggs is a junior double-majoring in Chemistry and Dance & Movement Studies. Laura works in the Weinert lab in the Chemistry Department, trying to understand the chemical mechanisms behind plant pathogens. They are a Woodruff Scholar, the founder of the Emory Women in STEM House, and a nominee for the Goldwater Scholarship. Laura’s hobbies include caring for their pet lizard, Ada Lovelace. After college, Laura wants to pursue a Ph.D in biochemistry with a focus on plant chemistry.


 

Student Spotlight: Carli Kovel

Carli Kovel

Carli Kovel is a chemistry enthusiast through and through. She spends her time conducting research in an inorganic chemistry lab, but has found herself interested in a wide range of topics in chemistry. And while her passion for all things chemistry may be making it a bit difficult for her to decide on a future career path just yet, Carli’s widespread interests have also opened the door for her to explore several potential avenues.

Before deciding to come to Emory in 2014, Carli had considered other schools where she might pursue her undergraduate degree. After visiting the Emory campus and meeting with some faculty members in the chemistry department, her mind was pretty much made up. Her decision to come to Emory was only made easier after learning about all the research going on here. “There is such amazing and impactful research going on at Emory and I was eager to get involved,” says Carli. “I felt like there were so many opportunities where I could become immersed in amazing projects.”

When she enrolled in Dr. Tracy McGill’s General Chemistry 141 class, Carli became even more excited about the subject and declared a chemistry major. The more she learned about chemistry, the more passionate she became. Beyond just attending classes and completing coursework, Carli regularly attended office hours, where she was able to dive even deeper into the material and start asking more complex and thoughtful questions.

In fact, her experience in chemistry 141 class was so impactful, Carli went on to become a Chemistry Mentor for the course. As a Chemistry Mentor, Carli continued to attend the class and serve as a resource for the more junior students. By being available to answer questions and discuss complicated or confusing material, she could help other students find success in the course or even identify their own passion for chemistry. Now, even though the chemistry 141 class has been replaced by the new Chemistry Unbound curriculum, Carli continues to stay involved as a Chemistry Mentor. She feels as though the new course layout has improved the flow of the material and allows for a more fluid way of learning chemistry.

Not only does this role as chemistry mentor give her experience with leadership and teaching, it also helps her develop an even deeper understanding of the chemistry material, an advantage which has proved to be immensely useful in a research setting. Carli is now an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Dr. Cora Macbeth where she studies aerobic catechol oxidation, an important organic reaction. In industry, the oxidation of compounds can be notably harmful to the environment, so much research effort is currently going toward improving this process through the use of cheaper and safer catalysts. Carli focuses on using copper and cobalt, two transition metals whose ability to easily gain and lose electrons makes them particularly useful as redox catalysts.

During her time in the MacBeth lab, Carli has gained extensive training in the techniques of inorganic chemistry. She has spent time learning paramagnetic NMR and working in a nitrogen atmosphere glove box. “Carli is a wonderful scientist and researcher. She is driven, inquisitive and doesn’t back away from challenges in the laboratory,” says Dr. MacBeth. “She has been working on some particularly difficulty syntheses, with very air-sensitive species and she has done an outstanding job characterizing these reactive species.” Beyond developing a diverse arsenal of chemical techniques, Carli has also developed a more abstract way of thinking about science and an appreciation for scientific creativity through experimental design. Carli has found it interesting and helpful to see some of the concepts she learned in class translated to the laboratory setting and has even found herself applying the concepts of chemistry to other classes, from history to poetry.

From left to right: Carli Kovel, Dr. Tracy McGill, Havi Rosen

Emory’s Department of Chemistry provided Carli with the opportunity to travel to Italy with the Summer Studies in Siena program. She spent six weeks overseas experiencing Italian culture while taking three courses to expand her chemistry knowledge. During her time in Italy, Carli learned about the history and culture of Rome, the chemistry of food and wine, and the research happening at the University of Siena. Her experiences ranged from visiting a vineyard to learn the process of wine making first-hand to synthesizing an artificial meniscus to be used to mimic the articular cartilage in the human knee! Carli loved her time studying abroad and considers it to be one of the best summers of her life. “It was amazing to be immersed in that culture!” says Carli.

In case coursework, mentoring, and research doesn’t keep Carli busy enough, she is also involved in several organizations at Emory. She currently serves as the Co-President of Hybrid Vigor, a student-run online interdisciplinary science magazine and as the Co-President of The Survivor Anthology, a literary magazine that collects poems, stories, and visual arts from survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Additionally, Carli serves as Treasurer of Emory Undergraduate Medical Review, a student-run medical research journal,  and as a campus tour guide. As a tour guide, she enjoys introducing prospective students to the great things Emory has to offer. “I love telling people why I am passionate about Emory. I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences and I really want to share them with prospective students,” says Carli.

Even though Carli is confident in navigating her way around Emory’s campus, she is still on a mission to find her future career path. Being interested in several different topics within the field of chemistry has given her a lot to consider before choosing a direction, but has also given her the freedom to explore several different possibilities. “Everything I’ve done so far with the department, I’ve loved,” says Carli. “I just want to keep taking more classes and see where that leads.” With graduation not far off, Carli is excited about what her future holds.

From left to right: Carli Kovel, Havi Rosen, Sarah Anderson

Elaine Liu Receives ARCS Award

Elaine Liu
Elaine Liu

Elaine Liu (MacBeth Group) has been awarded an Advancing Science in America or ARCS Fellowship. The ARCS Foundation advances science and technology in the United States by providing financial awards to academically outstanding U.S. citizens studying to complete degrees in science, engineering and medical research. The awards are focused on helping researchers at the startup or “seed stage” of their work and discovery.

Elaine’s project is titled “Elucidating the mechanism of cobalt-mediated C-H functionalization.” She will investigate how to make more reliable, less expensive catalysts for sustainable use in chemical and pharmaceutical synthesis, potentially making life-saving drugs more accessible and affordable. 

In her own words, Elaine explains: “Organic chemists have shown the utility of readily available cobalt in catalyzing cross-coupling reactions by providing a relatively fast, simple, and high yield pathway for these reactions. However, the catalytic step has not been well characterized, leading to a trial-and-error approach in its implementation. By studying the cobalt-based reactivity in a step-wise manner, the mechanism and mechanistic requirements of the activation event can be mapped out. Elucidating the activation requirements will, in turn, allow for more targeted and complex carbon cross-coupling reactions.”

Elaine’s research advisor, Cora MacBeth, highlights the way that Elaine’s research takes advantage of the resources of the Emory University Center for X-ray Crystallography.  “Her studies have focused on understanding the step-wise bond forming processes by analyzing stoichiometric transformations using spectroscopy and single molecule X-ray diffraction – in collaboration with the X-ray Crystallography Center at Emory.  Her research has helped identify previously unreported (and un-proposed) intermediates in these catalytic processes.  She will use these findings to aid in the development of new reactions.”

The ARCS Award is an unrestricted $7,500 award given directly to the scientist and may be renewed for up to three years. In addition to advancing her research, Elaine plans to use the ARCS award to expand her outreach efforts in the Atlanta community. Outside the lab, Elaine is the vice President of Outreach and Academic Affairs for Pi Alpha Chemical Society.  The group frequently visits local elementary schools and museums to share science demos. Elaine plans to create a blog that will catalog these chemistry demonstrations and lectures. “[I] would like to keep track of what worked and what concepts were suited to the children as well as make these experiments and their materials accessible for home schooled students and students in underfunded and underprivileged schools.” A blog will also be an opportunity for Elaine to share her experiences as a woman scientist, raising the visibility of women scientists more generally and contributing to diversity in outreach as well as in research.

After Emory, Elaine hopes to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution, sharing her love of chemistry with another generation. 

Congratulations, Elaine!

New PhD Student Sara Gebre Profiled by Emory News

New PhD student Sara Gebre was included in Laney Graduate School’s annual round-up of new graduate students!

From the article:

Hometown: Palmyra, Pennsylvania

Emory degree program: PhD in chemistry

Completed degrees: BS in chemistry, Haverford College

Focus of scholarship: I want to focus on using laser spectroscopy techniques to characterize different materials and proteins. Basically what this mean is that I want to use lasers to be able to learn more about the properties of materials (used in things like solar or fuel cells, for example) and how proteins move or act in a certain environment.

Why it matters: I worked with infrared spectroscopy (IR) in college to look at a certain functional group bound to a model peptide. I became really interested in the use of IR and wanted to expand my skillset and be able to use laser spectroscopy to look at proteins and materials of interest. I think this is important because understanding the material or protein you’re using is the first step in developing more efficient energy materials or drugs for diseases. It’s also useful for possibly understanding similar protein systems or compounds.

Proudest academic achievement to date: I published a paper from my time working in Dr. Vern Schramm’s lab this past year. I had been accepted to the PREP program (post baccalaureate) at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and used that as a gap year to get more lab experience and figure out what other research topics I was interested in. It was an awesome experience. My PI and lab members helped me with everything and I had a lot of support, which I’m grateful for.

Read the whole thing at the Emory News Center.

Congratulations, Sara!

Student Spotlight: For Julia Gensheimer, Chemistry is a Passion

Julia Gensheimer in an ACS chemistry t-shirt that she designed.
Photo: Julia wears a t-shirt she designed for a contest prior to the 2016 ACS meeting. Julia’s design—designed in ChemDraw – won over 70% of the votes in an online contest to choose a conference t-shirt. “It began as chemistry doodles that I thought looked like letters,” says Julia. The shirt was for sale during the ACS conference in Philadelphia.

“I can’t imagine doing chemistry anywhere else!”

That was what Julia Gensheimer (EC ’19) told her mother after going on a tour of the new addition to Emory chemistry’s Atwood Hall. With its soaring atrium, shiny new labs, and innovative teaching space, it’s easy to see how the Atwood Addition could get a student excited about chemistry. However, Julia’s tour took place in the summer of 2015, while the building was still being built.

“It was exciting to have an exclusive tour for students interested in chemistry,” says Julia of the hard-hat tour of the construction site led by chemistry Director Todd Polley.

Julia’s ability to see potential in the unknown brought her to Emory and it’s part of what makes her such a successful chemistry major. Julia is excited about what chemistry offers—and what it doesn’t.  “In the lab, you are looking for an answer to some research question and if you answer that question, you ask another one! You search and you re-search,” says Julia. “There is always something to discover.”

As a freshman, Julia enrolled in CHEM 221Z, an accelerated course for students with AP credit. The class was taught by Jose Soria and Dennis Liotta. Julia was excited to be working with top researchers as a freshman and the course further fueled her interest in chemistry. Dennis Liotta says, “Julia has excelled at everything she’s done at Emory. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a future superstar.”

“Julia is great,” agrees Stefan Lutz, Julia’s sophomore biochemistry instructor. “She is an enthusiastic student and a hard worker.”

While Julia is a rising star (and a self-described “chemistry fangirl”) that doesn’t mean coursework and research come easy. In fact, says Julia, “chemistry doesn’t come naturally to me at all!” Like many students, Julia found organic chemistry challenging, but the community she built in the classroom carried her through. “They are some of my best friends,” she says of her organic classmates, “We formed a little organic chemistry family and continue to take classes with each other. We study together and support one another.”

A "Sciku" submitted by Julia during the 2017 Atlanta Science Festival. The poem was selected as a first-round winner for the Sciku contest.
A “Sciku” submitted by Julia during the 2017 Atlanta Science Festival. The poem was selected as a first-round winner for the Sciku contest.

Outside the classroom, Julia has been involved in research in the Rafi Ahmed Lab in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology since February 2016. She’s building on experience she gained in high school after spending two summers in the lab of Dr. Michael Jensen at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research in Seattle.

How did a high schooler end up traveling across the country to get involved in cutting-edge cancer research?

She asked.

“I saw an advertisement about a cancer treatment without radiation or chemotherapy, known as immunotherapy at Seattle Children’s. The initiative was led by Dr. Michael Jensen and in minutes, I became his number one fan. So, I emailed him. To my surprise and utter joy, I received a reply and got the internship! I flew from my small town in Kentucky to Seattle where I volunteered full-time in the Jensen laboratory.”

The lab invited Julia back the next summer for ten weeks (funded in part by Emory’s Civic Scholars Program) where she completed an independent project. Her time in the Jensen lab also sparked another interest: triathlons.

Of course, in chemistry you can work hard and achieve. But triathlons—you must have an aptitude for those, right? Or at least experience?

“Maybe,” says Julia. “I did a triathlon my sophomore year of high school because I competed on the swim team at the time. After a triathlon hiatus, my lab members convinced me to participate in a triathlon relay over the summer. I enjoyed it so much that I joined Emory’s club triathlon team and finished my second triathlon last September. I will race again in the spring! I’m a terrible runner though so I really have to train for that part.”

Taken together, Julia’s accomplishments tell a story about a student who isn’t afraid to try, to test, to take risks. “I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t constantly challenged in some way.” Her next challenge? A summer research experience in the Ahmed Lab continuing her work in cancer immunology.

She isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do next – maybe a career in chemistry and biology research, most likely on the MD/PhD track. Or possibly on some track that hasn’t been built yet. Because if anyone can find the next cool thing and take off in pursuit, it’s going to be Julia Gensheimer.

Student Spotlight: Chem Mentor Sunidhi Ramesh

Sunidhi Ramesh
Sunidhi Ramesh

Early mentoring experiences solidified Sunidhi Ramesh’s desire to pursue a career in medicine.

“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was four,” she explains. That was the age when she started accompanying her favorite uncle on visits to his medical practice in a small, rural village in India. Her uncle’s clinic “was so different from any clinic or hospital that you would see here. It was quiet, and he was often the only person working there.” In that small space, she saw her uncle having a big impact.

“He used to give out free medicine. If he had patients who were homeless, he wouldn’t charge them. It was a very humbling process. He would be tired at the end of the day, but he’d be happy. I noticed that really quickly.”

Sunidhi’s interest in medicine eventually led her to the strong STEM programs at Emory. As a first year student, she struggled with time management—understandable considering she was involved in an array of activities, from writing for The Wheel to performing on a Bollywood dance team. Attending Chem Mentor tutoring sessions helped her to slow down and learn to budget her time.

“Chem Mentors kind of forced me to sit down and say, ‘Okay, these two hours are just for chemistry problems.’ I could figure out what I was comfortable with and what I wasn’t comfortable with and study from there. It gave me a baseline,” says Sunidhi.

Now, Sunidhi—a double major in Neuroscience and Sociology—is a Chem Mentor, helping other students to enhance their experience in Chem 141 and 142.

Sunidhi works on chemistry concepts with students (l-r) Mary, Farris, and Yasmin.
Sunidhi works on chemistry concepts with students (l-r) Mary, Farris, and Yasmin.

Chem Mentors are upper level students who provide weekly tutoring sessions to students enrolled in “Gen Chem.” Students who apply to be mentors must have completed Gen Chem classes at Emory with a grade of A- or better and are required to submit a reference from an Emory professor. Selected students undergo training and are also required to attend Gen Chem class sessions—helping to refresh their content knowledge and allowing them to serve as an in-class resource to students taking the class for the first time.

The tutoring sessions are the heart of the program, giving Chem Mentors responsibility for their peers’ learning. Mentors must develop their own approach to the material and lead sessions independently. Sunidhi says that one of the challenges is finding ways to help students who have different levels of comfort with the material under review. She’s learned not to make assumptions about what students already know; when students do show mastery, she will often keep them engaged by asking them to teach the material to others who are struggling. Her own experience with Chem Mentors has showed her that teaching material can help to solidify complex concepts even for students who have a firm grasp on course content.

“You benefit from teaching someone and learning how to explain the problem and someone else benefits from hearing it from another person,” she says.

The challenges from the program have given her a new respect for the professors who deal with these kinds of issues every day. “I’m a lot more sympathetic with professors now!”

At the same time, Sunidhi and her fellow Chem Mentors are able to use their role to help other students feel more comfortable with their professors. “Sometimes students aren’t as comfortable going to [the faculty] with questions. During our sessions, they come to us and we try to refer them to their professors to make them more comfortable with going to office hours; first years, especially, are very anxious. They think they can’t go to office hours unless they have a good question to ask.”

Director of Undergraduate Studies Dr. Doug Mulford praises Sunidhi’s commitment. “Sunidhi has been a model mentor helping countless students understand the material in Chemistry 141 and 142.  She relates to them as one who has been there herself.” Dr. Tracy McGill adds: “The Chem Mentors themselves are what make the program so outstanding.  Having a peer who has succeeded in the course earlier and can model tenacity, patience, and a methodical approach to breaking down a complex problem is invaluable to our students’ success.”

Sunidhi’s commitment to mentoring extends beyond chemistry. She mentors high school students through Emory Pipeline, a program that seeks to build awareness of STEM careers for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and she has also served as an Orientation Leader twice. “I think it’s a rewarding experience to be a mentor in general,” she says. “You get to see things from a different perspective.”

With Chem Mentors, Sunidhi is often pleasantly surprised by what she has retained from Gen Chem. “Sometimes I’m surprised that I still remember how to do the problem! I think those kinds of surprises combined with the reward of having to teach a class and seeing students have that ‘a-ha’ moment where they realize how a concept works—those are the rewards that line up and make it a good program.”

Maybe some of Sunidhi’s drive to mentor others comes from her own experience finding her way. “We kind of had to Guinea pig our way through everything,” she says, describing the way that she and her family have approached her goal of being a doctor. Both of her parents are immigrants from India and she is the oldest child, trying to forge a path through a very different educational system.  As she’s progressed—and continued to teach others—that path has become more and more clear.

“I don’t know anything else I can do,” she says. “Medicine is what I love.”

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Interested in being a ChemMentor? Applications for the 2016-2017 school year will be accepted this coming Spring. Students who have earned an A or A- in their chemistry courses are eligible to apply. Selected mentors are required to enroll in Chem 392R, the Chem Mentor training course. Dr. Tracy McGill says: “Chem Mentors is an exciting opportunity for undergraduate students to develop their leadership skills, work with their peers, deepen their understanding of chemistry concepts, and build relationships with faculty mentors.” Contact Dr. McGill or Dr. Mulford with questions.