St. Edward's University
Since joining St. Edward’s as chair of the chemistry department four years ago, physical chemist Tricia Shepherd has been focused on reinventing the department and its research program.
“Our goal is to up the caliber of the research we do. All of our students still complete at least one semester of research and we are embedding more research into the curriculum, with more emphasis on active learning and less on lecturing,” she explains. “At the same time, we are focusing more on quality research that delivers publishable results. The plan is to develop a more sustainable research model that produces results that attract more funding that, in turn, supports more research.”
Dr. Shepherd adds that this new approach gives more lab time to the most interested and promising students and has already resulted in more students continuing on to graduate programs.
“The Welch grant – and the research it makes possible – has been key in helping in recruiting new faculty interested in research,” she says. With three out of five faculty members new in the past five years, the department has increased its diversity and expanded research projects and funding.
Most Welch grant money goes to support the school’s summer research institute, but a change in the Welch budget cycle freed up funds to purchase a nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscope, which has significantly expanded the school’s research capability.
Summer research projects range from the development of a prion-like model that explains aspects of potential causes of the debilitating disease ALS; work to detail the functions of a fungus with biocontrol properties; synthesis of a family of model enzyme complexes and electronic structure calculations characterizing their properties, and the development of a portable imaging system.
St. Edward’s offers undergraduate degrees in chemistry and biochemistry as well as environmental and forensic chemistry. During the 2016-17 academic year, three papers were published based on Welch-supported research and 12 students received summer research stipends. All presented their work locally, seven at a national conference, and five at the American Chemical Society’s spring meeting. Eighteen students went on to either graduate programs or industry positions.
“It has been a whirlwind four years,” Dr. Shepherd laughs. “Next we will be seeking ACS approval for a new chemistry major, which is very exciting. Now that we have the core established, we will move forward with building and advertising the program.”