Experimenting with experience

Stacy Capehart, Rochester senior, has spent her entire Albion career solving complex problems as a chemistry major. At the end of March, she’ll be traveling to California to solve one more problem: where to attend graduate school.


Capehart, who works in Andrew French’s organic chemistry lab and plans on doing materials research in graduate school, credits her research opportunities at Albion for her acceptance into The University of California-Berkeley.

 According to Vanessa McCaffrey, assistant professor of chemistry, hands on research with professors is a big reason why Albion chemistry students have succeeded in getting into tier one graduate programs.


“The graduate programs like students who’ve previously done research as undergrads,” McCaffrey said. “Everything in my grant proposal has and can be done by students.”


According to the National Research Council, Cal-Berkeley has the top-ranked graduate program for chemistry in the country. Although Berkeley’s ranking is high, Albion chemistry students are no strangers to top graduate programs.


“We’ve had students get accepted into MIT, University of Pennsylvania, Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill,” said Andrew French, chemistry department chair. “The students who’ve gotten accepted into the tier one programs are very impressive.”


 McCaffrey and Kevin Metz, assistant professor of chemistry, each received a $50,000 petroleum research grant from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund. Both professors plan on working with students on their research over the next two years.


“While we’re not engineers, the ACS awards us for contributing to the workforce,” Metz said.


McCaffrey is studying magnetism that could potentially be used to make small motors for fuel efficiency, and said that although the research is fairly basic, it’s good for students looking for experience for graduate school.


“Since I’ve gotten here, all the students I’ve worked with in lab have gotten into their first choice of school,” McCaffrey said.


Capehart believes that the chemistry department does a good job of helping students find challenging research projects that will help students stand out when applying for graduate schools.


“For me, the Albion chemistry department is probably the only reason why I was accepted to graduate school,” Capehart said. “They work hard to expose students to research during the academic year and facilitate students’ acceptance to nationally recognized summer research programs at other universities.”

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