As an aficionado of science, biochemistry major Jordyn Wilson ’24 is drawn to Kalamazoo College and its student research.
“I’ve always been a ‘Why is this? Why is that?’ kind of person,” she said. “My mom has said that about me, too. I just want to know more about how things work. Science gives me an avenue to do that.”
That means the Parchment (Michigan) High School graduate was thrilled three years ago when she received word that she had earned a Heyl scholarship to attend K.
“It was right before COVID happened,” Wilson said. “I remember we all had our interviews and I was waiting and hoping. Then one day I was walking downstairs to my room when I got a call from an unknown number. I wasn’t sure I should answer it, but I did. They said, ‘Congrats! You’ve received the Heyl scholarship.’ I was very excited, feeling very grateful and very blessed.”
The scholarship’s fund was established in 1971 through the will of Dr. Frederick Heyl and Mrs. Elsie Heyl. Frederick Heyl was the first chemist at The Upjohn Company, later becoming a vice president and the company’s first director of research. Since then, Heyl scholarships have enabled hundreds of high school graduates from Kalamazoo County, including Wilson, to attend Kalamazoo College for STEM-focused majors or Western Michigan University for nursing, with renewable benefits for up to four years that cover tuition, fees, housing and a book allowance.
If there was a downside to her honor, it was the timing. She started college during the pandemic and most of her classes were virtual at the time. One exception, though, was her spring Chemistry 120 lab led by Laboratory Instructor Yit-Yian Lua.
“I remember talking to Dr. Y-Y about how much I missed research,” Wilson said. “I missed being in the lab, which was always a lot of fun for me.”
The very next day, Wilson received an email from Dorothy Heyl Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Regina Stevens-Truss, asking Wilson if she wanted join her lab’s research. Three years later, Wilson and Stevens-Truss are still working together, examining antibiotics.
“She’s very supportive of me and the ideas I have,” Wilson said of Stevens-Truss. “If there’s something I want to learn or something I think we can do, she says ‘Yes, we totally could do that.’ She’s letting me explore which is one thing I love about her.”
Today, Wilson is studying molecular hybrids, which are made by hybridizing two different molecules with some antimicrobial activity to create a molecule with elevated activity. She also studies antimicrobial peptides, which are short chains of amino acids found in the immune systems of many living organisms.
Her student activities draw her to intramural volleyball; a TA position in organic chemistry; a leadership role in Sukuma, which provides a fellowship for students of color; and membership in Kalama-Africa, a community to celebrate and engage with African cultures and experiences on campus. She’s also a member of the Kalamazoo College Dance Team and pursues art and the game of billiards in her free time. She has even created a student organization called Art and Soul, which centers on using art to promote self-care and self-expression. The club explores a new art form each week, allowing members to discover art they enjoy while building community.
“I’ve always leaned on art as a way to destress and just express myself as an act of self-care,” Wilson said. “It’s never just one thing that I’m doing. I’m always doing multiple projects. I’ve grown up with art and it’s a big thing for me and my family. I definitely think it balances the science part of me if I need to back off from STEM or I need a break from school.”
One day, she hopes to attend grad school and seek a Ph.D. in biochemistry as research is so much a part of her life. In the meantime, she’ll just celebrate her life at K.
“One of the main reasons I picked K is its size,” she said. “I liked how small it was and that it could help me connect with my professors and other students. I think I get more opportunities here than I would at a big school. It feels like we’re a close-knit community.”