My Undergraduate Research Experience by Tamara Powers '08
Chemistry research at Franklin and Marshall College was by far the most valuable experience during my undergraduate career. Undergraduate research with Dr. Yoder undoubtedly prepared me for my graduate work at Harvard by providing me with an opportunity to develop the tools necessary to overcome technical and intellectual obstacles that researchers face everyday. I owe a great deal of thanks to my research advisor, Dr. Yoder, for his guidance and support.
I began my independent research as a pre-freshman with Dr. Yoder studying the stability of copper hydroxy sulfate double salts. I continued to work throughout the subsequent academic years and summers leading up to my graduation. During that time I acclimated myself to laboratory settings and was fortunate to participate in the culmination of two different research projects. I feel that my research experience was enhanced by the fact that I attended an undergraduate-only institution because all of the research students had direct access to their research advisor. As a result, not only was I the primary researcher on my project but also had control regarding the direction of my project. Specifically, with Dr. Yoder’s guidance, I performed experiments, analyzed the results, and determined the next step to take in my research. The lessons I learned during my independent research experience with Dr. Yoder, such as critical thinking and problem solving, are applicable to any field you end up pursuing.
During my independent research project, I developed both a close professional relationship with Dr. Yoder as well as a close friendship. Some of my most fond memories of working with Dr. Yoder were spent chatting in his office. Everyday I would wander into his lab after class, unannounced, and plop into the chairs next to his desk. “Tamara!” he would automatically respond. He would then offer me cookies, or any other baked good he happen to be snacking on, and we would discuss chemistry, share gossip, or exchange stories. Dr. Yoder and I could talk for hours on end. When I faced frustrations in lab, classes, or life in general, I could always count on Dr. Yoder to give me a good pep talk.
The friendship I made with Dr. Yoder is as important to me as the education I received at Franklin & Marshall College. Now that I have graduated, Dr. Yoder and I still keep in touch. Frequently I call asking for advice, but we also have enjoyed discussing my current research and Dr. Yoder’s publications. Most recently, Dr. Yoder was able to attend my wedding held at F&M. It meant the world to me that he could be there, along with all of my closest family and friends.
It is clear that my undergraduate research experience benefited me on many different levels. It prepared me for my continuing studies in chemistry and gave me the opportunity to form a life-long friendship with Dr. Yoder. He is a true inspiration and an exemplary professor. I am honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Yoder.
Reminiscences of F&M Faculty by Mitch Sternlieb '08
I had the privilege to go to a small private high school where I could easily sense that my education was greatly enhanced by the interactions I had with my teachers. Consequently, when applying to an undergraduate college I was attracted to schools that employed buzz words such as “student-faculty ratio” and “student-faculty interaction.” These buzz words represent true descriptors of the educational experience at Franklin & Marshall College. While most of my experiences come from the department of my major, Chemistry, I must also acknowledge the professors from many other departments who played a direct and integral role in my personal and academic development. Among them, I am extremely fortunate and grateful for the support and friendship of Dr. Kabi Hartman (English) and her family, Dr. Hoffman (History and Judaic Studies) and his wife Tama (Hillel). To cite every experience and interaction for which I am indebted and grateful is an impossible task but I will highlight a few and carry the rest with me as some of my fondest memories at F&M.
My decision of major was strongly influenced by the positive close relationships that I had formed with a number of my chemistry professors and was a direct result of their support and interest in my success and happiness. In high school my experience in chemistry class did not appeal to me nearly as much as that in AP biology. I entered college with a belief that chemistry just was not my forte but, instead, I perceived myself, falsely of course, as a biology expert because I rocked the AP biology standardized exam, earning a 5/5. Consequently, I entered F&M convinced that I had a better chance to excel in biology than in chemistry.
F&M students were sorted by hall depending on what first year seminar they were in. My hall consisted of students from Dr. Yoder’s Chemistry and Dr. Fluck’s Tuberculosis Writing Seminars. Both of these professors played active roles in helping us transition to college life with careful observation of behavior and performance in the classroom as well as addressing issues on the hall such as noise levels and sleep schedules.
Also during the first semester was the moment that my perceptions of my abilities in chemistry were challenged. I had worked quite hard in Dr. Morford’s first semester general chemistry class. Dr. Morford carefully read my lengthy lab reports and provided me with positive reinforcement and constructive criticism. Both before and after writing the reports, I would visit Dr. Morford’s office hours and she took the time to simplify concepts that I had difficulty. Most surprising to me was the day she approached me in the lab and asked if I had ever considered research or a major in chemistry because she said I had an aptitude for it. It was quite a rewarding feeling to have a professor seek me out. This love for teaching and personalizing one’s approach for each individual student is the norm rather than the exception at F&M.
During the second semester of my freshman year I took an interdisciplinary laboratory-based course that studied applications of chemistry to the environment. Drs. Leber and Yoder of the Chemistry Department taught this course. During my final exam, Dr. Yoder leaned over my desk as I wrote out my answers and said, “Mitch, please come to my office tomorrow.” Uh oh, I thought! I wondered what he wanted to talk to me about. What I never expected was that he would invite me to join his research. This was the beginning of my work with Dr. Yoder which lasted even after I graduated when he hired me as a consultant to bring my successors up-to-speed. Dr. Yoder provided me with a project dealing with apatite salts, which comprise a diverse family of minerals that have significant biomedical and geochemical applications. His decision to give me this project stemmed from both his interests in the chemistry of these complex compounds and his desire to give me a project that would be meaningful for my future medical career. As long as one kept up with recent and past literature on the topic and had experiments actively going in the lab, Dr. Yoder treated his research students not only like colleagues but also like experts in the field. He encouraged independent analysis and creativity as his pedagogical approach, which instilled in me a greater sense of enthusiasm and curiosity in the project and a higher level of confidence and competence in the research lab, laboratory classes in my later chemistry courses, and at my research presentations on- and off-campus. This type of guided independence has led to a number of positive outcomes. I was able to confront the initial anxiety that came with filling the big shoes of the far more experienced graduate, whose project I inherited, because Dr. Yoder explained the advanced chemistry that I had not yet learned or interpreted it for me to help guide me toward my next experiments. The opportunity to work with Dr. Yoder created an above optimal way to study chemistry as my research and coursework complemented each other and steepened the trajectory of my evolution as a student, professional, and responsible adult.
Beyond a professor, I also view Dr. Yoder as a close friend. He frequently broke the monotony of the typical day in the lab when he invited the entire group into his office to have a vanilla Frosty from Wendy’s. He frequently consulted my lab partner Tamara and me about the strengths and weaknesses of the curriculum, the academic attitudes of students these days (this was one of his favorite topics) or just general discussions on various aspects of life. One time I will never forget was during my fourth year at F&M when I experienced a difficult time personally that affected me for many months. Dr. Yoder was one of the first people to recognize that I was going through a difficult time and he created a highly nurturing and supportive environment for me in the laboratory and office, frequently checking on me and sitting to chat with me. Without doubt, Dr. Yoder’s support as my research advisor, Dr. Moog’s support as my academic advisor, and Dr. Hartman and Tama Goodman played significant roles in helping me get through this difficult period and eventually graduate, not only on time but with a successfully defended honors research thesis. This thesis has resulted in a publication during my first year of medical school.
The privilege of going to a small school like F&M and being a part of an intimate department like the Chemistry Department has given me the opportunity to be a part of a community; it is a community of my peers, my mentors, and my teachers. It is with a great sense of pride and gratitude that I was able to share time with such genial, knowledgeable, and passionate individuals in the classroom, laboratory, community, and on campus.