First Walsh Fellows pursue chemistry, biology research thanks to bequest
Four biology or chemistry majors are the first Providence College undergraduates to receive grants from a fellowship research fund created by a bequest from Robert H. Walsh ’39 & ’66Hon.
Four Providence College students are conducting scientific research with biology or chemistry faculty this summer, thanks to a new grant program established by a bequest from a generous alumnus.
The Walsh Student Research Fellowships were created by Robert H. Walsh ’39 & ’66Hon., one of the College’s leading donors, who died in 2011. Mr. Walsh, who majored in business and chemistry and worked at the DuPont Chemical Corp. for 40 years, was a Platinum Torchbearer for gifts of $1 million and above in PC’s 1917 Society. His bequest established the Robert H. Walsh Scholarship Fund and the Robert H. Walsh ’39 Academic Fund.
“Any way we can get more students into the research lab, we’re very excited about, and will always be grateful to Mr. Walsh,” said Dr. Sheila Adamus Liotta, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, who chairs the Walsh Academic Fund committee.
Applicants must be chemistry, biochemistry, or biology majors or work with professors in those fields. To be selected for a fellowship, applicants had to submit a project proposal and a recommendation from their faculty mentor, who would oversee the research, as well as a statement about the student’s academic and career goals.
This year’s fellows:
• Emma Beer ’16 (Spencer, Mass.), a biology and English double-major, is working with Dr. Brett J. Pellock, assistant professor of biology, to study the role of a protein in regulating gene expression in the bacterium Shewanella oneidensis.
• Alexander Devanny ’15 (New Fairfield, Conn.), a chemistry major, is working with Dr. Christopher M. Laperle, associate professor of chemistry, to research the solution dynamics of osmium pentacarbonyl in alcohol solvents.
• Michelle Ouellette ’16 (Andover, Mass.), a biology major, who is working with Dr. Marla B. Tipping, assistant professor of biology, is researching how mutations in fruit fly metabolism affect tumor development, particularly related to brain cancer.
• Jonathan Varelas ’15 (Madison, Conn.), a chemistry major, is working with Dr. Seann P. Mulcahy, assistant professor of chemistry, on synthesis of 3,4 annulated β-carbolines via palladium catalysis.
Fellows receive a $4,000 stipend, and their faculty mentors receive a $1,000 stipend and $500 toward lab supplies. Fellows also qualify for a reduced rate for on-campus housing for the summer.
Researchers often have money through grants to pay some, but not all, of the students who are interested in working with them, said Ouellette, who plans to pursue a career in medicine.
“Funding is a critical element for summer research, and I am grateful for the Walsh Fellowship because it helped me secure this funding,” she said.
These experiences are a key way for students to determine whether to pursue careers in research, Adamus Liotta said. “This is a valuable funding opportunity to allow more students to be able to test those waters,” she said.
Summer research like this helps students decide if graduate school or a career in science is right for them.
“You can be a really great student, but what you also have to have is the right temperament for the lab,” she said. “The lab doesn’t cooperate all the time. Despite how great of a student you are, things are going to go wrong, and learning how to work through those challenges is a crucial part of a scientist’s development.”
“You’re learning in class — you’re learning the techniques, you’re learning the theory,” Adamus Liotta said. “Science is research. The rest is just preparation for science.”
Students will be encouraged to publish and present their work at events such as the College’s Annual Celebration for Student Scholarship and Creativity in the spring, or at research conferences such as the American Chemical Society’s spring meeting, she said.
Dominican’s kindness remembered
As a student, Mr. Walsh was inspired to give back to PC by the generosity of the late Rev. Frederick C. Hickey, O.P., then chair of the Department of Chemistry and later, vice president of community affairs. The Dominican allowed Mr. Walsh to work on campus as a lab attendant to pay his tuition, said Joseph P. Brum ’68, special assistant to the president for development projects in the Office of Institutional Advancement.
In 1996, Mr. Walsh established a scholarship fund for chemistry majors with financial need. Through his bequest, the donor endowed a new professorship in chemistry and biochemistry and added money to the existing funds to support research and student and faculty development in the chemical and biological sciences.
The search for the new professor will begin in the fall, said Adamus Liotta. In addition, some money will be used to create an equipment fund and to support travel and training for chemistry and biology professors — for example, to learn a new scientific technique. Mr. Walsh “was interested in people remaining at the cutting edge,” she said.
— Liz F. Kay
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