University of St. Thomas
The University of St. Thomas, a private Catholic institution in Houston, primarily serves minority and first-generation college students. The school offers American Chemical Society-accredited Bachelor of Science degrees in Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry.
Each year, interested students apply to take part in the Welch Research Scholars Program. The six faculty members each mentor some of the 20 to 30 successful applicants in research groups designed to simulate the programs at graduate schools.
“Most of the students choosing these majors originally do so with plans to pursue professions in the healthcare field,” explained John Palasota, chemistry department chair. “However, the research experience opens their eyes to other career options in science and research.”
He reports that the opportunity to experience research firsthand encourages some students to pursue graduate degrees in chemistry, helping grow the pipeline of underrepresented groups in the sciences.
While some research projects continue during the fall and spring semesters, most of the “heavy lifting” is done in the summer when teaching loads are lighter. The Welch scholars work side-by-side with faculty in the lab and share their experiences in group meetings.
“Being able to discuss research with their peers in meaningful ways lets them experience what real research looks like,” Dr. Palasota said. “And it also prepares them to present their work at local and national ACS meetings.”
Dr. Palasota himself is a graduate of St. Thomas, but he attended before the institution benefited from a Welch departmental grant so research was not as large a part of his undergraduate experience. However, when he returned to campus as a faculty member in 2000, the Welch research program was up and running. Today, his research focuses on developing analytical methods for high-performance liquid chromatography.
“We couldn’t give our students a rich research experience without Welch support,” he said. “Over time, we have continued to develop and refine our program and now it is the centerpiece of undergraduate chemistry at St. Thomas. The Welch Foundation is truly instrumental in delivering on our educational mission.”