Chemistry Conference, Connections Create Confidence

Four Students and a Professor at the ACS Chemistry Conference
Annie Tyler ’22 (from left), Faith Flinkingshelt ’22, Lindsey Baker ’24,
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniela Arias-Rotondo and Barney
Walsh ’22 represented Kalamazoo College at the American Chemical
Society (ACS) chemistry conference in San Diego. Jacob Callaghan ’22
attended virtually.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Daniela Arias-Rotondo traveled with several students to attend the American Chemical Society Conference in San Diego over spring break, where they presented posters of their research and connected with chemistry professionals in a distinct experience that built their confidence and their communication skills.

“I’m not sure they realized in advance how overwhelming the conference could be because it’s thousands of chemists, all in the same place,” Arias-Rotondo said. “They were nervous, but also excited when they were presenting. Just to see them in their element, no pun intended, is really cool because it’s a great opportunity and they seemed to enjoy it.”

Five chemistry students attended including four in person. Three of them told us about their research, their experiences and why attending the conference was so valuable. Barney Walsh ’22 also attended in person and Jacob Callaghan ’22 attended virtually.

Annie Tyler ’22

Annie Tyler, a Heyl scholar at K, introduced her work—performed in the lab of Associate Professor of Chemistry Dwight Williams—synthesizing molecular hybrids or, in simpler terms, combining two molecules into one that hopefully has antibacterial properties.

She was originally not going to attend the conference, but she received an ACS Student Exchange Award with the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChe), which provided her with a stipend.

“I really enjoyed being able to meet other Black chemists,” Tyler said. “There is a nonprofit group named BlackInChem that organized a meet up one evening. I was able to meet so many people and make connections I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet otherwise. I received lots of tweaks and ideas for my experiments in the future. Going to a conference was meaningful as I got to immerse myself in the chemistry community and go to talks about topics I’m interested in. As I’m headed to graduate school in the fall, it felt like a nice introduction into what the world after undergraduate life has in store.”

Faith Flinkingshelt ’22

Faith Flinkingshelt’s research has focused on making molecules that could attach to transition metals that can capture light and transform it into chemical energy. In other words, her work—in Arias-Rotondo’s own lab at K—examined how light-capturing molecules could lower the costs of and increase the efficiency of solar panels.

“I asked to join Professor Arias-Rotondo’s lab after loving one of her inorganic chemistry classes in the winter of my junior year, and I started working in the lab in the spring,” Flinkingshelt said. “I enjoyed working with everyone in the lab, so I decided to continue my research over the summer and into my senior year. It’s been an amazing experience and introduction to research.”

Flinkingshelt admitted she was nervous, not only to present her research, but to travel to California. Yet she was happy to embrace the opportunity.

“I had many questions about attending a conference out of state, especially in a big city like San Diego,” she said. “Ultimately, I’m grateful I had financial support from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation so it didn’t cost me anything in terms of travel and hotel costs, which helped me feel more confident. The nice part about conferences is that everyone has a different background than you, so they bring different perspectives and can ask questions that will help guide you in the future. It introduced me to conferences in a low-stress way, especially since we are still in a pandemic. By experiencing this now, I was able to go to the conference with my friends and have a great support system behind me while I navigated networking and attended conference events.”

Lindsey Baker ’24

Lindsey Baker’s poster reflected her work in producing polyolefins, which are common polymers used in household items such as textile fibers, phones, computers, food packaging, car parts and toys.

“Our work may provide an avenue for a more diverse family of polymers with new or improved properties,” Baker said. “​I worked this past summer in my hometown of Memphis under Dr. Brewster, a professor at the University of Memphis. I was also mentored by a second-year graduate student, Natalie Taylor. Dr. Brewster asked me to present at a conference, and provided a few good options, with ACS being among them. I was a bit intimidated by the idea of going to such a large meeting, but also was excited for the opportunity to explore the many different areas of chemistry that are represented at the conference.”

The conference gave Baker opportunities to explore presentations other than her own, opening her eyes to other subject matter within chemistry.

​“This just made me appreciate, all over again, the diversity of pursuits within the chemistry field,” she said. “​I have a list of things written down that I have curiosity about now, and I look forward to expanding that list as I keep seeing more.”

‘I felt very proud of them’

In the future, Arias-Rotondo hopes to encourage students to offer talks in addition to their posters, offering students even more professional challenges and opportunities. But for now, she’s happy to enjoy this experience.

“I don’t know if I would describe it as emotional, but it was significant for me because it was my first conference as a professor,” she said. “I organized a couple of symposia within the conference, but I didn’t present my own research, so I could step back and see how I helped the students get that far. I just felt very proud of them. More than anything it was the joy of seeing their science move forward and seeing them grow into awesome scientists.”