New Biochemistry Major Formulates Student Options

Biochemistry Professor Regina Stevens-Truss
Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Regina Stevens-Truss says the new biochemistry major at Kalamazoo College will provide an in-demand major for prospective students while better preparing current students for graduate programs.

Prospective students interested in science-based careers will have another reason to choose Kalamazoo College this fall. That’s when the Chemistry Department will offer both a chemistry and a biochemistry major. The new biochemistry major will expand the information addressed through the interdepartmental concentration currently offered at the College.

Biochemists commonly work in private industries, pharmaceutical and government labs, and higher education to increase the world’s understanding of the biological processes fundamental to life. At an undergraduate level, this field of study provides a foundation for graduate-level studies and careers in the health sciences such as medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, pharmacology and toxicology. This new major will open up these opportunities for our students as they prepare for careers beyond K.

Whatever the career path a science student follows, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Regina Stevens-Truss said, “It’s our job to help them figure out what’s next for them after K, and a biochemistry major will help in that effort.

“Some students come to us thinking they know exactly what they want to do, but then they get here and discover biochemistry is fascinating,” Stevens-Truss said. “Those are the students I’m excited for most because this new major will offer us an opportunity to open up biochemistry for them. I’m excited for our students and I’m excited for our program.”

This major will require the core courses in chemistry (general, organic, analytical and physical chemistry), as well as the chemistry senior seminar course, Professional Development for Chemists. In addition, biochemistry majors will take interdisciplinary courses in biology, mathematics and physics, and either Cell and Molecular Biology or Biophysics, depending on their long-term goals and plans. The biggest benefit will come from the program adding three new biochemistry major-required courses to the chemistry department’s curriculum: a 300-level foundations of biochemistry course, a 400-level applications of metabolism course and a comprehensive research-style lab practicum.

“Up until now, chemistry majors interested in this field had been at a disadvantage in this area,” Stevens-Truss stated. “The biochemistry course currently required for the concentration (Chem 352) is a survey of biochemistry topics—there is just not enough time to immerse oneself into the subject. Important topics such as photosynthesis, cellular signaling and genetics, and gene cloning aren’t currently addressed in that course. We hope that students are exposed to those topics by taking the required biology courses needed for the current concentration.”

However, in going from K to a graduate or post-baccalaureate program or to a job, “students need to be able to think critically about the application of these topics to real-world issues, which the new major is poised to help them do” Stevens-Truss said.

Prospective students and families are encouraged to discuss their interests in the biochemistry major and the benefits of it further when they talk to Admission representatives and chemistry and biochemistry department faculty to get additional information and for seeking more opportunities.

“Everybody has probably heard that ‘chemistry is everywhere’, but we don’t always see it,” Stevens-Truss said. “This biochemistry major will give students opportunities to see it in everyday life. That’s the excitement. This is giving us opportunities to offer students coming to K a chance to say, ‘This stuff is really cool,’ because life is cool.”

Conference, Faculty Catalyze Chemistry Students

The opportunity to present to and learn from pharmaceutical professionals is normally reserved for graduate students, professional scientists and postdoctoral fellows. For Kalamazoo College chemistry students in Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry Laura Furge’s lab, attending the Great Lakes Drug Metabolism and Disposition Discussion Group annual meeting as undergrads is a tradition that opens doors and underscores their passion for science.

Chemistry Students Attend Drug Metabolism Conference
Three chemistry students attended the Great Lakes Drug Metabolism and Disposition Discussion Group on May 9 and 10 in Ann Arbor with Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry Laura Furge (second from right). The students are Kevin McCarty ’20 (left), Cydney Martell ’19 (second from left) and Michael Orwin ’20 (right).

Three students attended the spring meeting on May 9 and 10 in Ann Arbor. Furge’s students, known for their research excellence, have had several opportunities in recent years to show off their work regarding the P450 enzyme, which catalyzes drug-metabolism reactions, with implications toward drug discovery.

This year’s K representatives included Cydney Martell ’19 of Gull Lake, Michigan; Kevin McCarty ’20 of Clarkston, Michigan; and Michael Orwin ’20 of Portage, Michigan.

“I feel I was really fortunate to get into (Furge’s) lab,” said Martell, whose connection with Furge also helped her secure an internship last year with Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company headquartered in Indianapolis and committed to discovering medicines for people around the world. “The most rewarding thing about the conference is our ability to network with individuals and build important relationships. It’s nice to be able to have that connection and be on equal ground. It’s a love of science that facilitates our ability to work across experience levels.”

Martell will seek a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Northwestern University beginning this fall.

The poster presentation McCarty made from his research in Furge’s lab will evolve into his Senior Individualized Project this summer, he said, which is a testament to Furge’s guidance.

“Instead of telling you how to do things, she’ll ask you questions, engaging you in the work,” McCarty said. “She gives you the freedom to do every part of the research you can by yourself, which helps you understand and take away what’s important.”

In fact, McCarty has been so happy with his experiences in the chemistry program at K, the drug-metabolism conference and in Furge’s lab, he’d tell prospective students considering K to also major in chemistry.

“I would tell them, ‘you’d be surprised by all the opportunities you’ll have,’” McCarty said. “When I first considered K, I heard all about our small class sizes and the faculty. What they didn’t tell me is how many opportunities there would be to work with faculty members like Dr. Furge or in a lab like hers.”

Orwin echoed his peers’ excitement for attending the conference and appreciation of Furge’s leadership in their lab at K.

“I really loved attending the conference and it was a great undergraduate experience being able to present my work to industry professionals,” Orwin said. “Overall, I find the most exciting part of research is the ability to contribute to our collective knowledge alongside being able to share one’s passion with others. I find myself very fortunate for being able to have this experience.”

Chemistry Symposium Bids Farewell to 40-Year Professor

UPDATE: The venue for the chemistry symposium has been changed to Dewing Hall, Room 103.

Kalamazoo College department symposiums typically kick off student presentations of senior individualized projects. This year’s chemistry symposium has added significance, serving as the official sendoff for Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry Tom Smith, who is retiring after 40 years at the College.

Chemistry Symposium Speaker Tom Smith
This year’s chemistry symposium has added significance, serving as the official sendoff for Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry Tom Smith, who is retiring after 40 years at the College.

The chemistry symposium will start at 4:10 p.m. Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Dewing Hall, Room 103. Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez will welcome attendees before Interim Provost and Chemistry Professor Laura Furge introduces alumni Chris Bodurow and Bob Weinstein, both ’79. Bodurow and Weinstein were students in the first class Smith taught in the 1978-79 school year.

After the opening remarks, Smith will offer a lecture titled “Reflections on Teaching and Research in Inorganic Chemistry: From Small Molecules to Crystals to Metalloproteins.” A reception will follow at Dow Science Center.

“We have invited alumni to attend and send notes that we will present” to Smith, Furge said. “Alumni will continue to see how strong the Chemistry department is. All faculty are research active as campus is abuzz in summer with research students, and their grants and publishing show how deeply invested our faculty are in teaching pedagogies.”

Bodurow and Weinstein were a part of the fundraising effort that endowed a research fellowship in Smith’s honor. The Thomas J. Smith Student Research Fellowship in Chemistry honors Smith by supporting an initiative close to his heart: independent summer research.

“The endowment to fund student research positions is a very fitting tribute to the work [Smith] has done,” Furge said. “He has faithfully taken on at least two students each summer, committing himself to mentoring and influencing generations of students.”

Testifying to the devotion Smith has inspired, he was designated an Alpha Lambda Delta National Honorary Society Favorite Teacher by first-year students 13 times. In addition, he directed the senior individualized projects of 70 students, was named a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Scholar and was awarded the Florence J. Lucasse Fellowship for Excellence in Scholarship or Creative Work and the Dr. Winthrop S. and Lois A. Hudson Award for Outstanding Contributions in Research at Kalamazoo College.

Grant Empowers Alzheimer’s Research at K

Kalamazoo College Professor of Biology Blaine Moore and Upjohn Professor of Life Sciences Jim Langeland ’86 have secured a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant worth more than $440,000 over three years to help K students research the origin and evolution of key proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

The research will examine the evolutionary origins of two interacting protein molecules, the beta-secretase enzyme (BACE1) and the amyloid beta (A-beta) sequence within the Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP). The findings will further the general understanding of key Alzheimer’s proteins, specifically how and when they evolved their pathogenic interaction.

Student Prepares for Alzheimer's Research
Nkatha Mwenda ’19, a biology major from Grand Rapids, Michigan, performs research in Professor of Biology Blaine Moore’s lab. Moore and Upjohn Professor of Life Sciences Jim Langeland have secured a National Science Foundation grant worth more than $440,000 that will empower students to perform Alzheimer’s research regarding the degenerative brain disease’s key proteins.

Langeland said such work will have no direct therapeutic application and won’t offer a specific cure for the degenerative brain disease. It could, however, lead to future research toward such outcomes. The immediate impact of the grant is the recruitment of underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students to work on the project.

Bright and motivated K students generally are recruited by word of mouth for such projects, which can inspire their senior individualized projects (SIPs). Such a setup provides students with hands-on experience and independent scholarship, which are two of the four key tenets to the K-Plan, Kalamazoo College’s distinctive approach to an education in the liberal arts and sciences.

The grant, worth a total of $444,941, also represents a rare opportunity for students to participate in research with, and benefit from, two professors with varied expertise. Langeland works with molecular genetics, developmental biology and evolution, and Moore is a neurobiologist who examines neurodegeneration and cell death in particular diseases.

Moore said, “This grant is unique in its interdisciplinary approach to a neurodegenerative disorder. Most scientists in the Alzheimer’s field are focused on molecular mechanisms, not evolutionary context. It’s only at a liberal arts college that you can you find professors with such disparate backgrounds working together with students on a project like this. It’s a perfect confluence of skillsets.”

Both professors said the grant represents the culmination of about 10 years of partnering to secure such funds and opportunities for students, providing a satisfaction unsurpassed in their careers. The fact that the two are friends as well as colleagues makes this research particularly satisfying. It also continues a notable year for K’s Biology Department, which has been involved with:

NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science and advance national health, prosperity and welfare, making such research and developing future scientists a priority. For more information on NSF, visit its website.

Grant to Foster Inclusive Science, Math Programs

Kalamazoo College has been awarded a $1 million, five-year grant to participate in a nationwide quest to find ways to better serve students from demographic groups that are underrepresented in science and mathematics. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced that K will be one of 33 colleges chosen for the Inclusive Excellence initiative. Efforts under the initiative will focus on closing what biology professor Jim Langeland ’86, who will lead the program, calls the “persistence gap.”

Two Students in Science lab for Inclusive Science and Math story
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has announced that Kalamazoo College will be one of 33 colleges chosen for the Inclusive Excellence initiative.

K is attracting talented students from a variety of backgrounds who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education, including students of color, first-generation college students and students from low-income families. Those students enroll in roughly proportionate numbers in introductory science and math courses. In the long run, however, they are more likely than students from more privileged circumstances not to continue in those fields, said Langeland,  Upjohn Professor of Life Sciences.

“We would like our senior major classes in the science field to look like our incoming classes in terms of demographics,” he said.

Associate Provost Laura Lowe Furge, Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Professor of Chemistry, said K will use the HHMI grant to take a three-fold approach:

  • Developing culturally competent faculty and staff who are better able to connect with the varied backgrounds and value systems of students.
  • Revising introductory science and math curriculum to integrate career guidance, emphasize shared concepts among disciplines and enhance academic support centers.
  • Revising hiring, tenure and promotion policies to reward cultural competency and inclusive practices.

Langeland said the first approach of the initiative will be addressed by expanding the College’s existing training in recognizing systemic and often unconscious racism and bias.

“We’ve been diversifying our student body and the idea is that there are institutional barriers to access and we’re trying to eliminate those,” he said.

The second part of the initiative will seek to provide students taking entry-level science and math courses with clearer entry points to those disciplines and guidance to potential careers, he said.

“One of the things we have identified is that we think there are a lot of aspects of our curriculum that are hidden—things that we assume students know and can navigate without being explicit about them,” he said.

Some students come to K steeped in that knowledge, gained from family members or teachers at high-achieving schools, Langeland said; others need a “roadmap” to follow because the route is unfamiliar.

Bringing accomplished alumni into classrooms is another way to help students understand the possibilities for careers in science and math, he said.

In the third approach, the Kalamazoo College Provost’s Office will work with faculty on ways to reward professors for developing skills that help ensure diversity and student success, Langeland said.

Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez said the HHMI grant recognizes K’s existing commitment to inclusiveness and will build momentum for efforts to achieve that goal.

“Talent comes in many forms, and our mission is to recognize and nurture it in the most effective ways,” he said. “We are proud to have the most diverse student body ever at Kalamazoo College, and we firmly believe that with the help of our dedicated faculty and staff, we can ensure that our liberal arts curriculum and our historic strength in sciences and mathematics will provide access to those professions for all students.”

K Students Win Battle of Chem Clubs

Congratulations to the seven Kalamazoo College Chemistry Club members who won the annual Battle of the Chem Clubs last weekend at Michigan State University. Bri Leddy, Audrey Thomas, Chris Vennard, Liz Knox, Maria Fujii, Jake Sypniewski and Adam Decker competed in four rounds of chemistry trivia and laboratory-based games before taking on Hope and Olivet in the playoffs, which consisted of a speed titration and a Winter Olympics-themed race.

Battle of the Chem Clubs team
Bri Leddy, Audrey Thomas, Chris Vennard, Liz Knox, Maria Fujii, Jake Sypniewski and Adam Decker represented Kalamazoo College in the Battle of the Chem Clubs at Michigan State University.

Twelve teams from Michigan including Michigan State, Aquinas, Wayne State and the University of Michigan-Flint participated along with the University of Toledo. The schools were not separated into size or public and private divisions, meaning the title was an overall championship. K’s representatives also finished with the fastest and most accurate speed titration, winning an award for that, too.

“We’re excited that we beat such tough competitors from both rival schools and large institutions,” Thomas said. “We showed we, as a small college, could hold our own against the best in the state. It’s nice to bring home a win, too, because it helps showcase our fantastic chemistry department in a good light to prospective majors.”

HERS Institute Selects K Associate Provost for Cohort

Kalamazoo College Associate Provost Laura Lowe Furge is one of 65 women leaders from across the country who has been selected to attend the 2018 Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Institute. Furge will be a part of the University of Denver cohort that meets from June 18-30.

Laura Lowe Furge HERS Institute
Furge, who is also a professor of chemistry, was one of just six HERS attendees awarded a Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Scholarship, which provides full tuition, accommodations, meals and travel to women in STEM higher education to attend the HERS Institute.

The HERS Institute will support and encourage women as they develop strategies for their leadership roles and establish communities including peer-and-mentor connections. Working together, they can thrive in and shape a new environment for equality and excellence in higher education.

Furge, who is also a professor of chemistry, was one of just six HERS attendees awarded a Clare Boothe Luce (CBL) Scholarship, which provides full tuition, accommodations, meals and travel to women in STEM higher education to attend the Institute.

For more information on the HERS Institute, visit its website.

International Chemistry Magazine Publishes K Grad’s Research

A 2017 Kalamazoo College graduate has been published in Angewandte Chemie, a German international chemistry magazine, for his senior individualized project (SIP) involving how prescription medications interact with the human body.

John Bailey presents his research published in an international chemistry magazine
John Bailey ’17 presents research related to his senior individualized project.

John Bailey, who was a chemistry major and math minor from Midland, Mich., performed research through a group at Michigan State University focusing on aromaticity. The term describes a ring-shaped molecule that exhibits more stability than other connective arrangements with the same atoms.

The research and resulting chemistry magazine article highlights how stability involving aromaticity could allow a greater range of choices in a pharmaceutical’s design, maximizing the drug’s effect in a targeted human system without harming other systems in a patient’s body.

The article, titled “High-Field NMR Spectroscopy Reveals Aromaticity-Modulated Hydrogen Bonding (AMHB) in Heterocycle,” has no immediate effect on how drugs are formulated or prescribed. Still, the results could one day have strong clinical implications for treatment courses such as chemotherapy. As a result, the research doesn’t stand to make Bailey famous, but a positive advancement in medicine one day will have been the result of many people like Bailey collaborating and building on each other’s work.

“It feels good to have work I’ve done out there that could be helpful to other humans,” he said.

Bailey is in Kalamazoo for at least an additional year, but would eventually like to attend graduate school and end up professionally as a leader in a research lab. He credits Chemistry Professor Jeffrey Bartz and Math Professor Eric Barth for giving him the guidance and encouragement he needed to succeed with his SIP.

“Hopefully, I will have enough knowledge I can be an effective member of my community professionally and nonprofessionally,” Bailey said. “I think K did a good job letting me understand how big a place the world is and how much I need to be humble. I want to keep working hard because no one is ever done growing.”


K Students’ Research Relevant to Prescription Drug Discovery

Four Kalamazoo College chemistry students from Professor Laura Furge’s lab attended the Great Lakes Drug Metabolism and Disposition Discussion Group annual meeting on May 4 and 5 in Kalamazoo. The entourage included three – Sarah Glass ’17, Christi Cho ’17 and Cydney Martell ’19 – who presented their research regarding enzymes that help the human body interact with and process prescription drugs. Their research is relevant to prescription drug discovery and treating diseases, especially in predicting how individuals will respond to their medications.

Student Research Relevant to Prescription Drug Discovery
Cydney Martell ’19 is one of three students who presented their research regarding enzymes that help the human body interact with and process prescription drugs at the the Great Lakes Drug Metabolism and Disposition Discussion Group annual meeting. Their research is relevant to prescription drug discovery and treating diseases, especially in predicting how individuals will respond to their medications.

Cho – a chemistry major from Anchorage, Alaska – says her studies could help advance clinical research that ensures drugs won’t build up to toxic levels or negatively interact with other prescription drugs. She will attend the University of Washington as a graduate student starting this fall, where she has received a Graduate School Top Scholar Award to help fund her education. Yet K has made an impression on her.

“The faculty make a really good effort to create a friendly learning environment,” Cho said. “Chemistry be challenging at times. They try to bring the fun into every aspect of it.”

Glass – from Shelbyville, Mich. – in addition to presenting research, organized and planned the event’s luncheon, providing students, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and pharmaceutical industry representatives with networking opportunities. Glass majored in chemistry at K, minored in math with a biochemistry concentration, and finished her undergraduate studies in December after just 3 1/3 years. She will start pursuing a Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University this fall.

At K, “all the chemistry faculty are extremely helpful and knowledgeable,” Glass said. “Students get a lot of hands-on experience through labs and have opportunities to get involved in research early on.”

Martell – a chemistry major from Gull Lake, Mich. – plans to further her research in K labs this summer.

“For me the annual meeting was a great experience to see how the topics I have learned in biochemistry and through research can be used to understand and critically think about current research in industry and academia.” Martell plans to attend graduate school after K, where she will earn a Ph.D. She is leaning toward teaching research in her professional career.

K chemistry major and Furge lab research associate Sabrina Leddy ’19 also attended the meeting. K Visiting Professor Kyle Furge took the 13 students from his advanced biochemistry course to the meeting’s opening plenary.

The Great Lakes Drug Metabolism and Disposition Group website says the group:

  • provides opportunities for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and senior-level associates from regional universities to meet pharmaceutical scientists and pharmacologists from various academic and industrial backgrounds;
  • promotes regional visibility of the discipline of drug metabolism and disposition science;
  • facilitates informal dialogue between pharmaceutical partners and academic laboratories; and
  • enriches interdisciplinary collaboration opportunities for those interested in drug metabolism and disposition.

7 K Students Attend Experimental Biology, 2 Honored

Seven Kalamazoo College students attended the annual Experimental Biology meeting in Chicago in May including two honored in the event’s undergraduate research posters competition.

Experimental Biology Posters Competition
K students Raoul Wadhwa (second from left) and Sarah Glass (second from right) received honors in the Experimental Biology undergraduate research posters competition. They are joined by professors Regina Stevens-Truss and Laura Furge.

About 225 undergraduates from across the country participated in Experimental Biology’s poster competition in the categories of:

  • proteins and enzymes;
  • metabolism, bioenergetics, lipids and signal transduction;
  • DNA, RNA, chromosomes and gene regulation; and
  • cell and developmental biology.

Sarah Glass ’17, of Shelbyville, Mich., was awarded first place in the “proteins and enzymes” posters category and received an award of $500. Raoul Wadhwa ’17 – originally from Portage, Mich., and now of Chicago – earned honorable mention recognition in “proteins and enzymes.”

The event is a joint meeting of six different societies including the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) as well as societies for physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, pathology and anatomy.

Glass said the meeting was a great opportunity to find out what’s going on in science and to practice presenting research. She is a chemistry major who will pursue a Ph.D. starting this fall at Vanderbilt University.

Glass presented research associated with her Senior Individualized Project (SIP). She investigated enzymes in the human liver that help process medicines, work that may become relevant in predicting how individuals will respond to their medications.

In contrast to Glass, it might seem strange that Wadhwa, a math major, not only participated but earned honors in an event largely attended by chemistry and biology majors. However, this project – which also was his SIP – united his interdisciplinary interests in computer science, math, biology and chemistry.

Experimental Biology Meeting in Chicago
K students Christi Cho, Sarah Glass, Raoul Wadhwa, Cydney Martell, Jacqueline Mills, Sharat Kamath and Susmitha Narisetty joined professors Laura Furge and Regina Stevens-Truss at the annual Experimental Biology meeting in Chicago.

“Something like this could only happen at K,” he said, adding he owes a “thank you” to chemistry professors Regina Stevens-Truss and Laura Furge. Their guidance helped him inside and outside the lab, especially as they coached him in professionally presenting scientific research. “This would never have happened at a big university.”

Wadhwa described his research as still being a ways off from clinical application, although he was looking at a new class of potential drug therapies that in some ways are similar to antibiotics. He helped develop software used to predict the antibacterial potential of peptides being studied in Truss’s lab, work that could one day prove vital in this age of antibiotic resistance. Wadhwa will attend the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western University starting this fall.

Other K representatives included chemistry majors Christi Cho ’17, Jacqueline Mills ’18 and Cydney Martell ’19; along with biology majors Sharat Kamath ’18 and Susmitha Narisetty ’19. Cho also presented her SIP research and Narisetty presented results from her summer internship at South Dakota State University.