Newsroom Story: Chemistry Success Starts at UWF

This October 2018 story was written for the University of West Florida’s Newsroom on the university’s website and linked on UWF’s social media platforms in order to promote the success of the university’s undergraduate chemistry program.

View the story on UWF’s website.

Two students who were part of the first group of UWF Chemistry Scholars have recently earned their doctorate in biochemistry. Janae Baptiste, ’13 and Josh Brown, ’12 both attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for their doctoral studies.

Baptiste, a biochemistry major at UWF, now serves as a post-doctoral research associate and adjunct professor for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Brown, a biochemistry major at UWF, is completing his sixth year of a dual doctor of medicine-doctorate in biochemistry program at the University of Maryland joint with University of Maryland, Baltimore County and recently received a prestigious fellowship opportunity with the National Institutes of Health.

Established in 2011, the UWF Chemistry Scholars Program aims to recruit and retain high-achieving chemistry students and increase the number of chemistry students pursuing Ph.D. or MD-Ph.D. degrees, both with an emphasis on underrepresented and financially disadvantaged students.

Another recent graduate of the Chem Scholars Program, Cathlene Del Rosario, ’16, a chemistry and biochemistry major, began working towards her Ph.D. in 2017 at Boston University and recently received a National Science Foundation award for a graduate research fellowship with the university.

These recent alumni success stories follow a trend in UWF’s Department of Chemistry. Approximately 72 percent of all Chem Scholars graduates enter a Ph.D. program, with 30 percent being admitted to a top-25 graduate program in the field. Since the program began, 67 students, including 26 underrepresented students, have graduated from UWF.

Karen Molek, associate professor of chemistry, director of the Chem Scholars program and associate dean for the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering, said that Chem Scholars gives motivated students interested in chemistry the additional access and mentoring necessary for their success.

“As a department, we’re educating students in a way that builds their confidence and helps them attain a long-term view of their potential careers in the field,” Molek said. “We’re taking a holistic approach, starting early in their undergraduate careers and giving them access to our faculty, labs, equipment and to research and mentoring opportunities. Partnering with students to remove barriers is ingrained in our departmental culture.”

This approach is garnering attention to UWF from nationally-recognized graduate programs in chemistry. Recruiters from graduate programs at the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins and Boston University have all recently visited UWF to give seminars and meet with UWF chemistry students.

“The education that I received at UWF provided me with an excellent foundation for graduate school,” said Baptiste. “The opportunity to conduct research and polish independent, creative thinking skills were critical to my development. Had it not been for the faculty at UWF seeing my potential and going out of their way to express confidence in me, I’m not sure that I would have attended graduate school. The support of the faculty and their dedication to the success of their students made a difference in my life.”

Photo credit: University of West Florida