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.

 

 

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Facilitators for the Common Read Needed

The UMW Common Read is one of the first opportunities to engage the incoming first-year students with classmates, upper-class students, faculty and staff in a shared intellectual experience, which can promote critical exchange of ideas and create a sense of community. The Common Read for 2017 is Hidden Figures. The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. We are hoping that you will join the discussion on the morning of Aug. 25 at 9 a.m. First-year students from the same FSEM course will discuss the book with one to two faculty, staff or upper class students. We will provide questions and supporting information in advance to help guide the discussions. We hope that you will join in welcoming the first-year students and participating in the fruitful discussions that will kick off their academic experiences at UMW. If you would like to volunteer to co-facilitate a discussion group, please indicate your interest (or check to make sure that you are already participating) on the following google sheet https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1DrRUIaR5MaZ0Qdv-zAaPv4Spnv0uJdmODe2aZ-63BRE/edit#gid=0. If you are teaching an FSEM course, you will be assigned to your group of students unless you indicate otherwise. Please let us know if you have any questions or need a copy of the book.

Thank you,

Kelli Slunt

Tim O’Donnell

China Tops 48th International Chemistry Olympiad (cen.acs.org)

“Common Read” Books are Available!

Copies of the 2016-2017 Common Read, Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by alum Kristen Green, have arrived and are now available. If you would like to participate in the discussion groups on Friday, Aug. 26, please email Tim O’Donnell or Kelli Slunt.  Copies of the book are also available at the Academic Services window in Lee Hall.

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.”

Students Train at UMW for International Chemistry Competition (The Free Lance-Star)

“A Brief and Everlasting Life”

As part of the year-long discussion of topics raised during the Common Read, UMW welcomes Sarah Gray, director of marketing and public affairs for the American Association of Tissue Banks and the author of an upcoming (fall 2016) memoir from HarperOne, to share her journey to donate the her newborn son’s organs for scientific research.  Gray’s story was featured on NPR’s Radiolab in July 2015. She will be speaking at the 2015 TEDMED conference.

Tuesday Nov. 3, 2015 at 4 p.m.

Digital Auditorium – Hurley Convergence Center (HCC)


Sponsored by the UMW Honors Program and The First-Year Experience Program.

Curious Kids, Try a Science Camp (The Free Lance-Star)