August 25, 2019

Kelli Slunt: Formula for Success

Kelli Slunt, chemistry professor and inaugural director of UMW's Honors Program. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Kelli Slunt, chemistry professor and inaugural director of UMW’s Honors Program. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

When Kelli Slunt ’91 first came to Mary Washington, she was a biology major who hoped to study medicine. Her plans changed over the years, but she has found a perfect chemistry with the dual roles she now holds at her alma mater. As the inaugural director of UMW’s Honors Program, the chemistry professor helps aspiring doctors – not to mention teachers, lawyers, engineers and more – find seamless pathways to success.

Along with Assistant Director Mara Scanlon and Program Coordinator Amanda Ronay, Slunt works with the admissions office to recruit, select and welcome young scholars whom they will spend the next four years guiding to their goals. She also teaches honors service learning courses – which are open to all students – and plans co-curricular events, field trips and other programs.

First-year Honors students will have a quick immersion into the program – and life at UMW – when City as Text starts next week. The nationally recognized experiential learning initiative, now in its second year at Mary Washington, gives them a chance to explore Fredericksburg and share their observations. This year’s program also will include Campus as Text, and added opportunities for discussion and reflection.

Under Slunt’s direction, the Honors Program has flourished. Alumni are enrolled in medical schools at Penn State, University of Maryland and Eastern Virginia, and in elite graduate programs across the globe. They receive early selection to George Washington University School of Medicine, thanks to an agreement with UMW, and find work at such entities as Dahlgren, the Department of Justice and the American Psychological Association.

“Mary Washington is a place where faculty and students develop strong working and mentoring relationships,” Slunt said. “I appreciated the ability to work one-on-one with a faculty member on a research project when I was an undergraduate. Opportunities like those are why students continue to choose UMW.”

 

Q: When did you become interested in chemistry?
A: I was in a summer research program at UVA while I was a Mary Washington student. The experience working on the synthesis of anticancer drugs was a game-changer for me.

Q: What brought you back to UMW?
A: Raymond Scott, former chemistry chair, brought his students to an undergraduate research poster session at UVA when I was in graduate school. I mentioned I’d like to teach chemistry, and he offered me a visiting faculty position that eventually turned tenure track. I currently split my time between teaching one chemistry lab and lecture per semester, and running the Honors Program.

Q: How has teaching chemistry prepared you to lead the Honors Program?
A: I’ve taught general education courses in which I’ve interacted with a diverse group of students – not just STEM majors – and it renewed my appreciation for the liberal arts.

Q: What’s next for the Honors Program?
A: We just moved to a more central and visible location, next to the bookstore in Lee Hall. We are excited to welcome 102 new Honors Scholars to UMW.

Q: Are you excited about the Jepson Science Center renovation nearing completion?
A: I’m looking forward to having a dedicated lab. During the renovation, I’d have to teach using a cart I brought in weekly.

Q: What’s your favorite thing in your office?
A: A photo of my father-in-law dancing with me at my wedding. He had changed out of his tuxedo into shorts and a T-shirt, but he didn’t want to miss a dance with me.

 

 

Sharpless Receives Distinguished Research Award

Charlie Sharpless had a problem to solve. He was finishing his post-doctoral fellowship and wasn’t quite sure where to go next. He loved teaching and conducting research, but there were few positions at large research universities where he could mix these two elements. But with the University of Mary Washington, he found the perfect chemistry. As a professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry, Sharpless combines equal parts teaching, advising and research to make new discoveries in environmental chemistry and educate the next generation of scientists and industry leaders. Now he is being honored with the Distinguished Research Award by the Virginia section of the American Chemical Society at its annual award ceremony in Richmond this evening, on Thursday, March 21. Read more.  

Quantum Leap

Benjamin Nguyen tugged at his blue-rimmed goggles and held his breath, a test tube teetering in his hand. A standout student from Valencia High School in Orange County, California, he knows his way around a lab, but after shattering a pair of beakers the day before, he wasn’t taking any chances.

Nguyen was among 20 teenage chemists, top scorers from across the country, to converge on the University of Mary Washington’s Jepson Science Center early this month. Professor of Chemistry Kelli Slunt, long involved with the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, pushed for UMW to host its annual two-week summer training camp, held until this year at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado.

Kelli Slunt keeps a close eye on two up-and-coming chemists inside a state-of-the-art Jepson Science Center lab. om across the country competed to represent the U.S. in July's 48th International Chemistry Olympiad. (Photo by Norm Shafer). UMW Assistant Professor of Chemistry Davis Oldham leads a Friday morning session during the 2016 training camp for the International Chemistry Olympiad. The two-week camp brought 20 of the country's top teen chemists to UMW. (Photo by Norm Shafer). Associate Professor of Chemistry Nicole Crowder uses a model kit to illustrate cubic structure as high school chemists take notes. This summer, UMW became the second-ever venue to host the training camp for the international competition. (Photo by Norm Shafer). Professor Kelli Slunt helps a student during a lab exercise designed to prepare camp members to compete on the international level.  (Photo by Norm Shafer).

“This is huge,” said Slunt, 2016 head camp mentor. “For my colleagues and me, it’s an opportunity to teach and mentor students of the highest academic caliber, future leaders in the scientific community. For UMW, it’s an opportunity to showcase our excellent facilities and dedication to STEM.”

Plucked from high schools in 10 states, from New York to Texas, star chemistry students – seven girls and 13 boys – rose from the ranks, outscoring more than 1,000 peers who sat for the nearly five-hour national exam. Four finalists will go on to represent the United States at next month’s 48th International Chemistry Olympiad in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The summer camp, sponsored by the American Chemistry Society, is loaded with labs, lectures, and exams covering analytical, organic, inorganic, physical, and biological chemistry.

“It’s a very intense program,” said Jacob Sanders, a camp peer mentor and Harvard doctoral student who won silver at the 2005 international competition in Taipei, Taiwan. “They’re basically learning about chemistry and thinking about chemistry every day for two weeks.”

Due to concerns over which country would host this year’s final contest, camp organizers were too late to reserve space, as they normally do, at the USAFA. When UMW came up as an alternate venue, Slunt slammed into high gear, consulting with colleagues, lining up logistics, and pushing fellow faculty members into new territory.

“I’m going to try and not let America down today,” Associate Professor Nicole Crowder joked at the start of a Friday morning lecture on cubic structures.

UMW Assistant Professor Davis Oldham and Associate Professor Charlie Sharpless took turns teaching classes, along with Associate Professor Leanna Giancarlo, who also served as camp coordinator. Fredericksburg-area retired chemist William Wacher and a handful of Mary Washington students pitched in, as well, helping prepare solutions and samples for the chemistry-savvy contenders.

Sending its first team to the global competition in 1984, the U.S. has twice won the International Chemistry Olympiad.

Slunt, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UMW in 1991 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from U.Va. in 1995, also directs Mary Washington’s Honors Program. She fit the organization and orchestration of the camp into her already-crammed schedule, working to squeeze it in between a European Capitals study-abroad trip and her own 25th UMW reunion.

For what the experience gives budding young chemists across the United States, though, she’d do it all again. “It was an honor to be asked to host this event at UMW.”

Kisila and Giancarlo Publish Research

Ben Odhiambo Kisila (Earth and Environmental Sciences) and Leanna Giancarlo (Chemistry) along with their UMW undergraduate research student Taylor Coxon (EES – 16), had their research paper, “The impact of urban expansion and agricultural legacies on trace metal accumulation in fluvial and lacustrine sediments of the lower Chesapeake Bay basin, USA” published in the peer-reviewed international journal Science of the Total Environment.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969716311937

Department of Chemistry Hosts Tech Tour

Student looking at a chemiluminescent reaction, tonic water fluorescence, and title image.

Top left: A student looks at a chemiluminescent reaction. Bottom right: Tonic water fluorescence.

Approximately 40 students and teachers from Chancellor and Courtland High Schools visited the UMW Department of Chemistry on Wednesday Oct. 10, 2014 as part of the Tech Tour sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce’s STEM 16 group.  Associate Professor Leanna Giancarlo and Professor Kelli Slunt introduced the students to background information on fluorescence and forensics. The students toured the chemistry department laboratory spaces and conducted experiments on the fluorescence of household items and on the reaction of luminol with bleach.

The Color of Science

Isabelle Malouf was so into science she wore it to prom. The gown that she made with organza and sequins had a bubble-type skirt that resembled a bacteriophage. A dress and a virus, it was part of the Daring Night Attire – or DNA – collection she created for a high school design class.

The Color of Science

Isabelle Malouf uses zebrafish to do endocrine reception research.

UMW Sophomore Receives Barry Goldwater Honorable Mention

University of Mary Washington sophomore Juliana Laszakovits is the recipient of an honorable mention from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. Juliana Laszakovits Her work focuses on understanding how dead plant life, known as dissolved organic matter, and pharmaceuticals and personal care products, known as PPCP’s, degrade. An accurate estimation of how quickly PPCP naturally degrade will provide a better estimate of the actual concentrations of pharmaceuticals entering the environment. During her research process, Laszakovits, a chemistry major, collaborated with research groups from Ohio State University and the University of Connecticut. Charles Sharpless, UMW associate professor of chemistry, will present their research findings at the Gordon Research Conference this summer. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship Program, established by Congress in 1986 to honor longtime Senator Barry Goldwater, is designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields. It aims to foster and encourage excellence in the STEM disciples and to education and train new generations of U.S. leaders. This year, the Goldwater Foundation awarded 283 scholarships from more than 1,100 STEM students across the country. In addition to the scholarships, the foundation also recognized several students from each state with the honorable mention distinction. Laszakovits, a member of the UMW Honor’s Program, has been named to the Dean’s List. In August, she will attend the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education to present findings on the effectiveness of Peer Assisted Study Sessions at UMW.

UMW Showcases STEM Activities

Small drones buzzed overhead as more than 600 people viewed the latest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the Anderson Center at the University of Mary Washington on March 29 during the third annual  STEM Summit 16. Click to view slideshow. Showcasing the achievements of the region’s students, educators and businesses, the event featured more than 50 booths, including the UMW departments of biology, chemistry, computer science, earth and environmental science, geography, mathematics, physics and the admissions office. Germanna Community College, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren and a variety of regional schools also showcased 3-D printers, experiments and robotics among other STEM-related technologies. Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab and associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University, delivered the keynote address. One of the U.S. Navy’s first female fighter pilots, Cummings discussed drone technologies and human-machine collaboration. The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual event is sponsored by Central Rappahannock Regional Library (FredTech) and Lockheed Martin. A few steps away in the Goolrick pool, five local school teams – from elementary to high school – competed in the regional SeaPerch competition. The SeaPerch program, funded by the Office of Naval Research, is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Teams guided their remote-controlled submersibles through a series of tasks, including navigating an underwater obstacle course and retrieving weights. Teams also presented to a panel of judges about the overall projects. Two teams, both from the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity Dahlgren School, won the competition and will go on to a national SeaPerch competition in Mississippi. A different buzz could be heard further down Campus Walk during the 8th Annual UMW High School Calculus Tournament. Six local high school teams, consisting of 23 students, competed in a jeopardy-style competition and used individual buzzers to signal the correct answers. The Paul VI High School team from Fairfax took home the championship title with team members Christina Wulff, Stephanie Ibanez and Stephanie Keener. The Mountain View High School team from Stafford finished second. Thomas Sheehan, also from Paul VI High School, earned the top individual score of the tournament. More than $600 in prizes were awarded to the student winners as well as the schools represented by the top two teams. The event was sponsored by Dynovis.

Lift Off

Olivia Schiermeyer led fifth graders in a countdown as she manned a miniature rocket launcher at the “3…2…1 Lift Off” station. Several covered their ears in anticipation of the blast.