Transforming the Future: Chemistry Graduate is Princeton-Bound

Tyler PabstTyler Pabst is a recent graduate from YSU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a minor in mathematics.

A truly dedicated student, Tyler has been heavily involved in the Honors College and has also served as a trustee and treasurer for the University Scholars Program. Working in the Center for Student Progress and volunteering for a number of non-profit organizations in Youngstown further enriched his experiences during his time at YSU.

“I started college as a Biology major with the intent to go to medical school,” said Tyler, “but when I took organic chemistry the summer following my freshman year, I really fell in love with it and started thinking about becoming a scientist.”

After committing to chemistry, Tyler immediately became involved with Dr. Genna’s research group. This research led him to present results as far as Seattle, and he hopes to publish a full paper soon. Though his research was quite distinct from most of the other research in Dr. Genna’s group, it has left an impact.

“My work has also given rise to some new project ideas that the group will pursue in the future,” said Tyler.

Tyler will be attending Princeton in the fall to begin working on his PhD. He aspires to become a professor and lead his own research groups. For now he continues to work in the lab on organometallics research that may lead to publishing an in-depth paper.

Many YSU STEM students have expressed surprise and gratitude toward the availability of professors and research opportunities for undergraduate students, and Tyler is no exception.

“I think it was very valuable that, even as a 19-year-old undergrad who didn’t yet fully understand what I was doing, I could be trusted to just dive in to research,” said Tyler. “I think we’re in a sweet spot in terms of resources and accessibility of those resources.”

This commentary from Tyler sums it all up:

“I’ve thought recently about how I, as a high school senior who committed to YSU because it was my cheapest option, would react to the idea that I was headed to Princeton for a PhD in chemistry.  In all honesty, I did not expect to grow as much as I have in these four years, or to get such a world-class education, or to be in the position that I find myself in now.  I consider myself fortunate to be a YSU penguin at the best time ever to be one.  Our chemistry department is sending recent graduates to Notre Dame, Michigan, and Princeton this summer for PhDs.  I have friends going into engineering doctoral programs at UC-Berkeley and Yale, and still others working for Tesla, GE, and Google.  I’m so excited to see the amazing things YSU students do for years to come; I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re trending upward.”

We at YSU STEM congratulate Tyler on his accomplishments, wish him the best at Princeton, and look forward to hearing about his future successes.

Alumni Corner: Miranda Helmer

A lot of YSU STEM alumni go on to pursue extraordinary careers in their field. Our STEM alumni include people who work at Hershey’s, VEC, Inc., and even NASA.

Among those outstanding alumni is Miranda Helmer, who is the Director of Research & Development for new product innovation at The Clorox Company.

Miranda graduated from YSU in 1997 with a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering and said that YSU was a wonderful experience and that being a Penguin helped her get her return on investment sooner than if she went to a more expensive university.

“YSU provided me with exceptional academics without the high price tag of other universities,” she said. “This enabled me to not be weighed down with the stress of how I would ever pay off my student loans.”

She manages a department of 24 Engineers and Ph.D. Chemists to develop new products for Clorox’s home care and laundry product lines. Some of the recent innovations from her team include Clorox Smart Seek Bleach, which was named as one of Better Homes and Gardens Best New Products for 2015 and was voted as the Best New Laundry Stain Remover.

Miranda said that she did have to work a bit harder than others with degrees from big schools, but said that academic organizations on campus were a big help.

“My advice would be to create strong chapters of organization such as [Society of Women Engineers] or [American Institute of Chemical Engineers].  These organizations have large conferences that companies attend,” she said. “At these conferences network, network, network.  There is a lot of recruiting that happens at these types of events.  Since the companies aren’t coming to your campus, you have to go to them.”

Miranda said that a big part of her success was being flexible with work location. After graduation she moved to Wisconsin to be a production supervisor with Frito-Lay PepsiCo. Two years after joining Frito-Lay, she was transferred to their Research and Development department, moving her to Dallas.

After spending 11 years at Frito-Lay and obtaining an MBA, Miranda and her husband made the move to California, where she put in two years at Chevron before moving to Clorox.

She also addressed a common thought of most students: “How many times will I actually use this stuff?”

“I mean, really, how many times will I actually need to size a heat exchanger?” she said. “What I didn’t realize was that, more than the exact content they were teaching, they were training my brain a way of thinking. The curriculum is set up to give you broad knowledge of content. The content was used to train our brains how to approach a problem in a structured and logical fashion. That can be applied to anything thrown at you.”

And in case you’re wondering just how many times you’ll need to size a heat exchanger, the answer is one.

“You will likely size a heat exchanger just once in your career but you will use the way of thinking everyday.”

Teachers Experience The Flipped Classroom

On December 16, area high school chemistry teachers and several faculty of the STEM College were introduced to the concept of The Flipped Classroom as a part of Professional Day, which was jointly hosted by the Department of Chemistry and the Beeghly College of Education. The Flipped Classroom, pioneered by Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, provides a way for students to have a more hands-on learning experience.

“The basic idea of flipped learning is to present lecture material outside of the classroom. This is usually done through the preparation of videos that are then posted to sites like YouTube. Students are expected to view the videos before class,” said Dr. Mike Serra, an Associate Professor of Chemistry, and the principle organizer of the event . “Some teachers present students with an outline of the notes that students fill in during each presentation. During class the students can focus on other things such as problem solving or performing more experiments. It can be beneficial for the STEM disciplines that are more problem based.”

This year, there were 45 participants from local high schools, as well as some participants from the Department of Chemistry. Sams gave a presentation introducing all of the participants to flipped learning.

Recent Publications: Alumn William Hurst

William Hurst, a 1975 graduate of Chemistry, is publishing his eighth book, Chocolate and Health, with Dr. Philip Wilson of East Tenn. State Univ and Dr. W Jeffrey Hurst of the Hershey Co as editors. The book is currently in production in Europe with publication in early 2015 by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Their first book, Chocolate as Medicine, won the prestigious Gourmand award as the best book published in the UK on this topic and the 2nd Best in the world.

Faculty Faction: Doug Genna

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Dr. Genna

For Doug Genna, a new assistant professor of organic chemistry, the love of chemistry didn’t come early on.

“When I went to college, I actually didn’t want to be a chemist. I did not like chemistry in high school, and I did not like general chemistry,” he said.

Doug started out as a biology major, but quickly realized that that wasn’t where he wanted to be. In order to fulfill the requirements for his major, he had to take a year of general chemistry and a year of organic chemistry before entering his biology classes.

“When I was taking organic [chemistry], I really started to enjoy it,” Doug said. “When you actually get into [organic chemistry], it’s actually a lot of reasoning and logic problems, and once you understand a certain set of rules you can reason through anything, even if you haven’t seen it before, and that’s really what I like about the most: the problem solving.”

­One of the things he said he loves about YSU the most is the mixture of teaching and research.

“It’s not like a big research university where there’s so much stress on doing research — although I love doing it — the pressure to produce is so ridiculous. Here, it’s much more low pressure and [you get to] research what you want and engage the students,” Doug said.

For his research, Doug is working on making metal organic frameworks, which he described as a hybrid of an inorganic metal and organic materials that polymerize to make three-dimensional, cage-like structures. The focus point of his research is to figure out how those structures are made, since the structure’s synthesis is not understood. Along with the creation of the structures, Doug is also attempting to do different chemical reactions inside the cages.

Another thing Doug said he loved about YSU is that the chemistry program is comparable to larger research institutions.

“We have a very good chemistry program. Not even just for a small school. We have really state-of-the-art instrumentation. For students who are doing student research they get a lot of hands-on experience with using state-of-the-art equipment that some big schools don’t even have,” he said.

Doug said he has good relationships with his students, which is something that was difficult to achieve when he was at larger institutions.

“That’s been the fun thing about teaching this semester. I have scheduled office hours, but students come in all the time, and working with students has really been fun,” he said.

Dr. Steven R. Little

Professor Steven Little, PhD Photo by Joshua Franzos

The Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh is proud to announce that Associate Professor Steven Little, PhD has been appointed Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, effective May 1, 2012.

Dr. Little’s research focuses on the controlled release of drugs. He holds the Bicentennial Board of Visitors Endowed Faculty Fellowship and also retains appointments in the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine and in the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering. Recently, he was elected Chair of the Drug Delivery Special Interest Group in the Society for Biomaterials.

Dr. Little joined the Swanson School of Engineering in 2006 where his research focuses on the controlled release of drugs. He holds the Bicentennial Board of Visitors Endowed Faculty Fellowship and also retains appointments in the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine and in the Swanson School’s Department of Bioengineering. Recently, he was elected Chair of the Drug Delivery Special Interest Group in the Society for Biomaterials.

Dr. Little holds eight US patents and provisional applications for patents including new methods to fabricate controlled release vehicles in a high throughput fashion; dissolvable synthetic-vasculature; novel complex delivery vehicles; and a description of the first degradable, artificial cell. Since joining Pitt, Dr. Little has received funding from the National Institutes for Health, the National Science Foundation, the US Army, the US Department of Defense, the American Heart Association, The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, and several industrial sources that total almost $5 million.

Dr. Little received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 2005 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he held three National Graduate Fellowships and received the American Association for the Advancement of Science Excellence in Research Award for his work on engineered therapies that interface with the human immune system. He received a bachelor of engineering in Chemical Engineering from Youngstown State University in 2000.

Edward W. Powers Women in Science and Engineering Career Day Sets Record in Attendance

Some of the women professionals participating in career day pose for a photo.

This year’s career day on March 3, 2012 smashed the previous attendance record. One hundred and eighty five middle school and high school girls from over 50 different schools attended.

The keynote speaker, astronomer Dr. Pamela Gay from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, gave an exciting presentation on the history of space exploration and how students have contributed to scientific discovery in the field.

The largest ever career day group of girls crowds the Moser Hall atrium.

After the talk, the students attended panels where professional women who are working in science and engineering discussed their careers, their training, their lives and the highlights of their jobs. A number of the panelists were YSU graduates, emphasizing the quality education in STEM available at YSU. In the afternoon, STEM faculty and other professionals led a variety of hands-on workshops that allowed the students to experience science and engineering in action. Two new workshops were added this year. The girls built motors and learned about electricity in one and used protein chemistry to identify a suspected criminal in another.

A speaker addresses the girls on the stage of the Chestnut Room.

More than 35 Youngstown State University graduate and undergraduate students volunteered their time, helping in workshops and acting as chaperones. This year’s program was enhanced through an endowment from the Edward W. Powers Foundation, which allowed for increased activity, broader workshops, and more well-known speakers.

Not only was this the largest group of participating girls we have had, but they were also very engaged. This shows that word is getting out about the career day and also that area schools are increasing their emphasis on science and technology. We are already looking forward to next year’s program and hope to continue to build on this year’s success.

Cushwa Fellows

Three STEM graduate students are taking the next step in their academic aspirations. YSU graduates Kristin Frank, Michael Kovach, and Adam Palumbo are the recipients of the 2011-2012 Cushwa Commercial Shearing Graduate Fellowship. Established in 2003 by the Cushwa family, in cooperation with the YSU Foundation, the Fellowship gives outstanding graduate students real work experience through research and internships (working 20 hours a week for 16 weeks) and lessens the financial burden by granting a $15,000 stipend. For the Fellows, a great deal of their preparation began as an undergraduate.

Student works in the chemistry lab.

For chemistry student Kristin Frank, she said “as an undergraduate I spent the majority of my time studying and preparing for classes to ensure the best grades possible.” Her dedication has paid off. With YSU chemistry professor Dr. Brian Leskiw, Frank is conducting research in the physical chemistry field, and will be interning with Timothy Eastly, another YSU faculty member, through Toxicology Enterprises Inc., a Warren based drug and alcohol detection laboratory. Frank will be assisting Eastly with probationary drug testing. Frank said that the Fellowship…” has provided me with several opportunities I would have probably not otherwise had access to.” Frank’s future plans include obtaining her Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

Students gathered around equipment in engineering lab.

Michael Kovach’s mechanical engineering background has given him the opportunity to work with General Motors, Lordstown. Kovach is working on one of the main robotic arms in the planting department conducting a failure analysis (weakening of frequently used parts). Kovach said that when one of these arms fails, the production slows or shuts down; this can potentially cause a considerable loss of revenue. After completing his project Kovach said that…”we are trying to develop a monitoring system that would give an early indication of trouble so it could be fixed. If successful, it may be implemented on other robotic arms and /or other GM facilities.” With the Fellowship, Kovach said that he has gained “real life experience” and plans on obtaining his Professional Engineering license.

Students working on equipment.

Adam Palumbo, another mechanical engineering Fellow, has taken a different route with his research. Palumbo is working on using different technologies to cool surfaces of solar panels. Palumbo said that he was fortunate to have begun research as an undergraduate with faculty member Dr. Ganesh V. Kudav. Palmubo said this helped him transition to the graduate program, and the Fellowship has provided him with a “sense of responsibility.” Like Kovach, Palumbo also plans on obtaining his PE license in the future, after working full-time with a company.

The Cushwa Commercial Shearing Fellowship provides students with unique opportunities, and experience in their field. In addition to the three students highlighted, other Fellows include Brianne Ciccone, industrial systems engineering, Mark Macali, mechanical engineering, and Brandon McMillen, mathematics. Students with an undergraduate degree from any STEM discipline, including those who have obtained their degrees from other institutions, are encouraged. Also for the first time, students interested in the new PhD in Materials Science and Engineering are welcome to apply; the PhD stipend level has been established at $25,000 The next application deadline will be April 2012.

More information about the Fellowship is available here.