Trinity University received its first departmental grant from The Welch Foundation in 1997. Laura Hunsicker-Wang, the current chemistry department chair, says the support has “been a huge benefit.”
“The Welch grant is pivotal to our program,” she said. “It provides an avenue to conduct research while supporting rigorous undergraduate education in chemistry.”
Each faculty member has one or more students who work with them in the lab over a 10-week summer research program. The Welch funds provide a stipend for the students, purchase lab supplies and fund travel to regional and national conferences where students present their work.
Trinity’s chemistry program will add another faculty member next year, bringing the total to nine tenure or tenure-track professors. Chemistry majors typically number between 25 and 30 in any given year. The university offers degrees in chemistry, biochemistry and a joint interdisciplinary degree program in biochemistry and molecular biology. Two of the degrees require students to participate in hands-on research.
Dr. Hunsicker-Wang reports that while faculty typically have other research funds, including several research grants from Welch, the departmental grant program is especially useful for new faculty setting up their labs and allows those in between grant cycles to continue their research.
“I am proud of the caliber of research we are doing at Trinity,” she said. “I feel it is on par with the larger research institutions which have graduate programs – we publish our findings in some of the top journals – but our investigations are done predominately with undergraduates.”
This is Dr. Hunsicker-Wang’s first year as chair and as “caretaker” of the Welch grant program, but she reports she has had at least one Welch-supported student in her lab each of her 15 years at the institution. The biochemist studies metalloproteins to understand the relationship of molecular structure and function. Her current work is exploring how histidines, amino acids that usually bind to the metals, facilitate interactions with small molecules in cells.
“I am so grateful for the support Welch gives our program in terms of our educational mission and the science we do,” she said. “The quality of our chemistry here wouldn’t be possible without The Welch Foundation.”