May 26, 2015
S. Patrick Walton is an associate professor of chemical engineering and materials science and the director of the CoRe Experience in the College of Engineering. His research interests include biomolecular engineering of novel therapeutics and diagnostics.
Life as a faculty member is complicated and busy. As I have said many times, one doesn’t become an academic because it’s the easy path. One becomes an academic because it provides an extraordinary amount of professional freedom and, just as importantly, gives one a chance to work with students, whose infinite curiosity and passion are truly invigorating.
I have been fortunate to mentor many outstanding undergraduate students during my career. Many of them have been members of the Honors College and professorial assistants, an MSU program facilitating research by outstanding first- and second-year students. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with one of these students and ask her about her experiences at MSU. I wanted to get her perspective on the undergraduate experience, both generally and as an undergraduate researcher in my group.
A number of points stood out to me. First, having never visited campus before, she identified MSU as a collaborative, supportive place while participating in the Alumni Distinguished Scholarship weekend, noting how different it felt than other places she visited. Since arriving, she has been able to connect with students from all over the globe, helping her feel right at home.
Amazingly for a campus the size of MSU’s, she also said that it was the only campus she visited where she didn’t get lost. So, we’re doing something right there!
Luckily for me, the PA program also intrigued her. She had not considered a research career, which reminded me how important it is for faculty to encourage students to pick their heads up and critically examine all their possible options for the future. It’s our job to send these world changers out into the world where they will make the most impact, and that means harnessing their passion and nurturing their skills and knowledge.
The student, already fluent in Italian and working on French, chose to double major in chemical engineering and Chinese. Doing so has allowed her to see the best of MSU in two very different ways.
A self-described abstract thinker who finds calculus and science cool, she has the chance to work with world-class faculty who are investigating challenging problems, such as energy, advanced materials and biomedical systems. On the other hand, she discusses international politics with political science majors, sometimes in Italian! Only a comprehensive research institution like MSU could develop a student like this.
And have we prepared her for the future?
With plans for graduate research in the application of chemical engineering to biomedical systems and a research career overseas (China?), MSU has prepared her for her professional path. But she strives to change the world as a mentor for others, to give back for all those who have mentored her. As one member of that group, I would expect nothing less.
Photo by G.L. Kohuth