Good Business ‘Scents’: K Triple Major Launches Fragrance Company

Darsalam Amir examining the supplies that go into her scents
Darsalam Amir ’24, a triple major in business and economics, biochemistry, and religion, is launching a natural fragrance company based on her family’s heritage from her dorm room.
Students test samples of scents
With the help of a student team from Amy MacMillan’s Principles of Marketing class, Amir held a fragrance testing in Hicks Student Center to narrow down which scents she should produce and sell first.
Darsalam Amir holds operculum onycha shells in her hand
Operculum onycha shells from Chad are a key ingredient in the handcrafted perfumes and incense Darsalam Amir ’24 makes in her dorm room and sells at

Darsalam Amir ’24 started pondering the idea of launching a fragrance business based on her family’s cultural heritage in high school.  

At Kalamazoo College, she found the support she needed to bring that dream to life before she graduates. As of November 15, Oud Al Salam is up and running, offering body oil, incense and perfume in two different sandalwood and musk scents at  

A triple major in biochemistry, economics and business, and religion, Amir was born in Sudan. Her mother is Sudanese, and her father’s family is from Chad. The two African nations share a border, and Amir’s parents grew up in similar cultures. 

After living in several different African countries, Amir’s family settled in Ghana when she was 3 years old. When she was 11, they moved to Lansing, Michigan—both times for educational opportunities for Amir and her siblings. At the same time, her father insisted that they speak only Zaghawa at home and maintain connections to their cultural background through food, dress and music. 

The creation and use of natural scents represent a big piece of that cultural connection for Amir. On the Oud Al Salam website and on her Instagram at oud_al_Salam, Amir shares both updates about her scents and insights into their cultural significance.  

“The scents and fragrances I create are a direct reflection of the cultural significance of perfumes and incense in my community,” Amir said. “They have held a special place in our lives for generations and have been a part of our traditions and rituals. The art of crafting perfumes and incense is a communal activity in my family and community.” 

In Ghana and in the U.S., Amir’s mother found Sudanese communities that gathered often at each other’s houses. 

“I vividly remember the gatherings, the sharing of fragrances, and the discussions about formulas and tweaks to create unique scents,” Amir said. “This cultural practice fostered a sense of togetherness, identity and appreciation for our heritage. By sharing these fragrances with a broader audience through my company, I am preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of my family and community. The scents are not just products; they are a bridge that connects people to our roots, evokes memories and fosters an understanding and appreciation of the beauty of diversity.” 

Having completed an early college program, Amir came to K with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in pre-health studies. She planned to earn a bachelor’s in biochemistry and proceed to medical school. 

“I came to K thinking, ‘I know exactly what I want, I’m going to get in and out,’” Amir said. “I only needed a few courses to get my degree. Then the K culture got me and I wanted the full experience.” 

Darsalam Amir ’24 worked with a student team from Amy MacMillan’s Principles of Marketing class
Darsalam Amir ’24 worked with a student team from Amy MacMillan’s Principles of Marketing class to help launch her natural fragrance business. Pictured at the end-of-term presentation are (from left) James Dailey ’26, Helen Le ’26, Amir, Francesca Ventura ’26, Zach DeVito ’26 and Eric Paternoster ’26.
Students participate in photo shoot with fragrance products in front of them
Principles of Marketing students James Dailey ’26 (left) and Eric Paternoster ’26 stage a photo shoot for the natural fragrance business launched by Darsalam Amir ’24.
Promotional image for fragrance and scents business
Amir’s Principles of Marketing student team staged a photo shoot to create this promotional image for her website.

Amir realized business classes at K might help her budding entrepreneurship more than her years of unsatisfying internet research had. She started with introductory economics classes and basic accounting—which she found fascinating—before working her way up to marketing classes with L. Lee Stryker Associate Professor of Business Management Amy MacMillan. She found inspiration in MacMillan’s Principles of Marketing course, where students work with clients to build a marketing plan. 

“Our client was in nonprofit work,” Amir said. “She wasn’t making any money, but she was running this business, and I thought, ‘If she’s doing it, I could do it, too.’ It was a real-world situation. I had thought I was doing market research by watching YouTube videos and reading online articles. Now we were doing real market research and it was so impactful.” 

Amir had been working in a pharmacy and saving as much as she could to invest in her company. When she finished the Principles of Marketing course as an enrolled student consultant, she approached MacMillan about returning as a client. 

“I knew Darsalam to be a very dedicated student, so I knew that she would follow through and make it a worthwhile project,” MacMillan said. “I was also intrigued with her idea. When you introduce a new product, you want to make sure it is truly something new and different that meets a meaningful need. In this case, the idea of this high-end perfume that would incorporate ingredients from Chad seemed like a unique positioning that would have appeal.” 

While the class has had a few past clients who are current K students, that happens rarely—and MacMillan gets excited about it every time. 

“What I love about it is students supporting other students, and the recognition that you don’t have to wait until you’re grown up to be an entrepreneur; you can be an entrepreneur now and have these great ideas,” MacMillan said. “What really excites me about this is that peer-to-peer experience.” 

Working with Amir provided her team with real-time, hands-on experience. 

“The student teams work with the client the whole term,” MacMillan said. “The final presentation is usually a plan the client can execute sometime in the next six to 12 months. What is just wild about this project is that they’ve actually been off and running. They did fragrance testing in Hicks where they helped test both the appeal of certain fragrances and which ideas resonated most to help Darsalam understand not just how to choose the fragrances, but how to position and market them. It’s unfolding under their eyes, a business using their input in real time.” 

Darsalam Amir visiting Chad while surrounded by sheep
During summer 2023, Amir traveled to Chad for the first time since her family settled in Ghana so many years ago. While conducting interviews, visiting museums and translating texts in service of her Senior Integrated Project examining how the Zaghawa people of Chad embraced Islam and synchronized it with their pre-Islamic beliefs and practices, Amir also spent time with family she had never met and visited local markets, with a cousin as her guide, to buy fragrance ingredients.
Fragrance ingredients for Darsalam Amir's scents
Amir’s ingredients for her fragrances include musk stones, sandalwood and operculum onycha shells she purchased in markets in Chad.
Darsalam Amir tests the scent of a fragrance
Darsalam Amir ’24 is launching a natural fragrance company, Oud Al Salam, to share an important aspect of her family’s culture. “My work is a tribute to the traditions I cherish and a means of sharing the richness of my Sudanese-Chadian heritage with the world.”

Helen Le ’26, a member of Amir’s Principles of Marketing student team, agreed. 

“Everything we have learned in class we apply immediately to our project,” Le said. “I feel like it is a more authentic experience and perspective. This class allows me to quickly apply the knowledge I’ve learned in practical situations.” 

The project experience taught Le about handling workload, working in a group, time management, how to promote and execute ideas, and more. 

“Darsalam’s energy and attitude will bring her and the business more success in the future,” Le said. “‘Where Fragrance Becomes a Cultural Connection’ is one of my favorite Oud Al Salam mission statement sentences. This is the part I like the most about this start-up; it is not only about selling a product, but also the experiences and the cultural promotion.” 

“It’s exciting when you see a student take an idea and make it into a reality, especially when it aligns with a passion of theirs,” MacMillan said. “It’s a way for Darsalam to blend her business skills with her cultural heritage and to bring something new and different to the market.” 

The student team has provided crucial marketing research, surveys, product testing and pricing assistance, Amir said. Her friend Amalia Kaerezi ’25 helped design the logo. An entrepreneurship workshop with David Rhoa, visiting assistant professor of economics and business, has helped inspire and shape Oud Al Salam. Her chemistry knowledge and lab experience proved invaluable in the process of developing the fragrances. Even her religion major has played a role, as a summer 2023 trip to Chad in service of her Senior Integrated Project in the religion department offered an opportunity to learn from family, practice perfumery and purchase ingredients—musk stones, sandalwood and operculum onycha shells. 

Other supplies, such as bottles and labels, have been purchased online.  

“One of the main hurdles has been finding reliable vendors who understand and share my vision for designing unique and appealing product packages,” Amir said. “This process has taught me the value of persistence and the importance of building strong partnerships with suppliers who believe in the same aesthetic and quality standards that I uphold. Balancing my business with my other commitments both on and off campus has been another significant challenge.” 

In addition to her three majors and her pharmacy job, Amir works in the College library and as a residential assistant for Trowbridge and Dewaters halls. She also serves as president of Kalama-Africa and as an active member of the diversity committee for Kalamazoo College Council of Student Representatives. 

“Sometimes we walk behind Harmon past the K buses that say, ‘More in four,’” Amir said. “Whenever my friends see that, they’re like, ‘That’s you, Darsalam! They said more in four, you said more in a lifetime, and you’re doing it.’ That slogan speaks to me right now. I tried to get all the experience that I could in these four years.” 

Amir plans to graduate in spring 2024 and take two gap years to develop Oud Al Salam before beginning medical school. She is looking into fellowships that could help her travel around Africa to learn more about the art of perfumes and incense. 

Launching Oud Al Salam is just the beginning of the dream. Amir wants to explore sustainable and eco-friendly packaging, collaborations with local artisans, support for the communities where she sources ingredients, and classes for people interested in learning more about perfumery. 

“I’m genuinely excited about the future of my company,” Amir said. “My primary goal is to see it thrive and reach new heights, with our scents becoming household names that people trust and love. I envision physical stores opening up across Michigan, offering our customers a tangible and immersive experience with our fragrances. 

“My goal is not just to sell products but to create a brand that resonates with people on a deeper level and contributes positively to society.” 

Logo for Darsalam Amir's fragrance business says Oud Al Salam
Amir said her fragrance company’s name is derived from the Arabic word for “comes from wood” as well as from her name.

Medicines for All Founder to Deliver Dreyfus Lecture

The chair at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering will deliver the Dreyfus Lecture, sponsored by Kalamazoo College’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, this Thursday. 

B. Frank Gupton—whose research group is focused on the development of continuous processing technology to facilitate the discovery, development and commercialization of drug products—will discuss public access to essential medicines in a post-pandemic environment. He is the founder of VCU’s Medicines for All institute, which focuses on improving global access to lifesaving medicines. 

Before joining VCU, Gupton’s 30-year industrial career centered on the development and commercialization of chemical processes for pharmaceutical applications. That time included years he served as the executive director of North American process development for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, where he led the commercialization of the HIV drug nevirapine. 

Dreyfus Lecture speaker B. Frank Gupton
Medicines for All Institute Founder B. Frank Gupton will speak Thursday at Kalamazoo College’s Dreyfus Lecture.

In 2018, Gupton received the American Chemical Society Award for Affordable Green Chemistry and the Presidential Award for Green Chemistry. In 2019, he earned the Peter J. Dunn Award for Green Chemistry and Engineering Impact in the Pharmaceutical Industry from the ACS Green Chemistry Institute Pharmaceutical Round Table. Gupton holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Richmond and graduate degrees in organic chemistry from Georgia Tech and VCU. 

The public is invited to the lecture, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Dalton Theatre. For more information, contact the chemistry and biochemistry department at 269.337.7007. 

Student Openly Shares Her Research to Tackle Chagas Disease

When scientists perform research, what they discover is often proprietary and kept in close confidence until results are published or patented. Erin Somsel ’24, however, would rather share her research with the world.

Somsel, a biochemistry major at Kalamazoo College, is working on her Senior Integrated Project with Associate Professor of Chemistry Dwight Williams and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, which engages top students from about 25 global institutions in research through the Open Synthesis Network. Their combined efforts provide shared, open-source information, allowing entire teams to look into the molecules and compounds that present the most promise for developing medicines that fight neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

NTDs are a diverse group of 20 conditions that disproportionately infect women and children in impoverished communities with devastating health, social and economic consequences. Many are vector-borne with animal reservoirs and complex life cycles that complicate their public-health control. Plus, drug companies often don’t see the benefits of helping impoverished communities that are less profitable.

The open-source initiative, though, is more interested in cooperative work and says its participating researchers have developed 12 treatments for six deadly diseases, potentially saving millions of lives.

“That’s appealing to me because there are scientists from everywhere that work on this project,” Somsel said. “I think that’s a cool way of getting everyone involved in the scientific community to come up with a solution to a big problem.”

In the meantime, Somsel hopes her work will contribute to a treatment for a seventh affliction, Chagas disease. The inflammatory condition is most common in South America, Central America and Mexico with rare cases in the southern United States. It spreads through the feces of a parasite often called the kissing bug, as it damages the heart and other vital organs when the bug bites humans.

“A lot of the work on the drugs for Chagas disease was done in the 1960s, so there’s an urgent need for new ones,” Somsel said. “Chagas has two phases, acute and chronic. The acute phase has common symptoms such as fever, headache and fatigue, but if it turns chronic, it can cause cardiomyopathy and serious gastrointestinal problems. The drugs only work in the acute phase, so if it’s not caught, it’s life-threatening. There’s also no vaccine against Chagas disease.”

In the lab, IC50 values represent the concentrations at which substances inhibit parasites through biological and biochemical processes. The hope is to find IC50 values through molecules and compounds that warrant further research.

“I’ve been working on optimizing our processes and I got the procedure down so that we could start generating some of the compounds that we wanted to,” Somsel said. “The next step is to continue building the library of the chemicals we want to make and send them into the Open Synthesis Network, where it will test them for the activity against the parasites.”

Erin Somsel researching Chagas disease in the lab
Erin Somsel ’24 hopes her research will contribute to a treatment for Chagas disease, an inflammatory condition most common in South America, Central America and Mexico with rare cases in the southern United States.
Erin Somsel researching Chagas disease
Somsel first was introduced to NTD research when she was on study abroad in Costa Rica. While there she studied Latin American health care systems in an environment that challenged her to grow.

Somsel first was introduced to NTD research when she was on study abroad in Costa Rica. While there she studied Latin American health care systems, including Costa Rica’s, in an environment that challenged her to grow.

“I think K has a unique culture of pushing students beyond their comfort zone,” she said. “I don’t think that I would have had that experience at any other place.”

Now, with that experience—plus a K-Plan that involves student organizations such as the Health Professions Society and the Sisters in Science, athletics through the women’s soccer team, and academics as a teaching assistant for introductory chemistry—Somsel feels like she’s prepared to one day succeed in medical school, where she will continue pursuing lab research. Hopefully, that will involve further research involving NTDs.

“Success for me used to be going to class, getting A’s and stuff like that,” Somsel said. “Then, I started working in the lab. I found that there are many little things that build up to success. When I had a reaction that wasn’t successful, it was easy for me to say, ‘I was unsuccessful today.’ But Dr. Williams helped me put it in a different perspective. He could say, ‘No, you were unsuccessful in generating this compound, but you were successful in realizing this solvent didn’t work, so we can try something else and move forward.’ I think that has really shaped me as a student. It helped me understand that if at first something doesn’t work for me, I’m going to keep trying and persisting to find something that does.”

Heyl Scholarship, K Empower Student’s Mix of Science, Art

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.”

Portrait of Heyl Scholarship Recipient Jordyn Wilson
Jordyn Wilson ’24 was thrilled three years ago when she received word that she had earned a Heyl scholarship to attend Kalamazoo College.

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.”

K Receives $2M Grant for Dow Science Center, Electrical Infrastructure

The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation is continuing a legacy of philanthropy toward higher education and Kalamazoo College with a $2 million grant that will support K’s science facilities. 

The College’s Dow Science Center, completed in 1992, is named in recognition of another generous grant from the Dow Foundation. At the time of its completion, the 33,290-square-foot science center introduced K students to the latest technology and equipment in biology and chemistry instructional programs and offered a practical and attractive environment for teaching, learning and research. The mission of the facility continues today, and this new grant will help the College maintain the center’s excellence as it replaces the roof, retrofits the lab airflow management systems throughout the building, upgrades the fire system and installs new carpeting.

Additionally, the grant will help fund an ongoing project to modernize the College’s electrical grid. This initiative is set to be completed by August 2025, with the College actively engaging in fundraising efforts to bring it to fruition. The Dow Foundation’s support will help move this project forward, allowing the College to ensure a reliable and sustainable energy infrastructure across the entire campus.

Student works in Dow Science Center
A $2 million grant from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation will benefit students and help Kalamazoo College maintain the Dow Science Center by replacing the roof, retrofitting the lab airflow management systems throughout the building, upgrading the fire system and installing new carpeting.

For nearly four decades, the Dow Foundation’s commitment to STEM programing at K has benefitted generations of students. Its latest grant adds to its legacy, building upon previous support that funded two endowed professorships and enabled the replacement of a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, allowing students to analyze and identify chemical compounds and structures with state-of-the-art equipment.

“We’re grateful for the Dow Foundation’s generous support, which will enable students, faculty and staff to continue pursuing science and research that benefits the world,” Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez said. “The College has a long history of success in the sciences and this grant shows a continued and shared optimism in the exceptional work of our students, and what they will accomplish long after they leave K.”   

The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation was established in 1936 for religious, charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes for the public benefaction of the inhabitants of the City of Midland and the people of the State of Michigan.  

“The State of Michigan has always benefited from strength in higher education,” said Ruth Alden Doan, president and trustee of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. “The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation is proud to have played a role in that strength and continues to value the high performance of Kalamazoo College as a liberal arts college with excellence in chemistry and other sciences.”

Family Science Night Fun Brings Community to K

Students participate in Family Science Night
Kalamazoo College students demonstrate how oranges can be used to pop balloons during Family Science Night.
Students participate in Family Science Night
K students teach community members about acid/base chemistry by writing hidden messages.
Family Science Night 14 (2)
K students helped K-12 students explore density by using oil, water and Alka-Seltzer to make lava lamps.

About 160 community members, consisting of kindergartners through 12th graders and their families, came to campus to engage with fun, hands-on experiments at Family Science Night on May 18, hosted by students from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Department of Biology at Kalamazoo College.

The Family Science Night “Science Surrounds Us,” conducted at Dow Science Center and supported by funding from the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement, featured 15 interactive science booths with 39 undergraduate student volunteers and a four-student planning committee, consisting of Crystal Mendoza ’23, Elizabeth Wang ’23, Maxwell Rhames ’25 and Onora Lancaster ’23. The event gave K students the opportunity to practice their science communication skills while nurturing children’s interest in the sciences.

K students showed Family Science Night attendees how to make DNA bracelets using the DNA sequences from various animals.
Students participate in Family Science Night
K students helped Family Science Night attendees explore the freezing-point of water by making ice cream.
K students showed taught community members about the life cycle of plants by planting herb seeds for kids to take home.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Josie Mitchell joined the faculty at K last fall and had been thinking since about ways she could connect her students with the community. Science outreach events with K-12 students had been the way she loved doing similar community engagement as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“One of the skills I hope my students develop is to be able to communicate the scientific concepts they learn about in class in an exciting and accessible way to the public,” Mitchell said. “As students planned their science booths, we talked about the scientific topic each group hoped to convey and then designed hands-on experiments that K-12 students would do. Ultimately, we all learn better and have more fun when we’re actually doing something versus being told about it.”

Stickers helped K-12 students keep track of which experiments they saw
Kids used stickers in a Family Science Night passport to keep track of which experiment stations they visited.
K students assist community members
·        K students showed Family Science Night attendees how to extract the iron content from cereal using magnets
Students tend to a booth showing homemade volcanoes
K students helped community members investigate acid/base chemistry with baking soda and vinegar to make mini-volcanoes.

The K students developed ideas using household ingredients that ranged from experiments such as creating miniature volcanoes with baking soda and vinegar, exploring the freezing point of water by making ice cream and learning about the life cycle of plants by planting herbs, to creative activities such as removing the iron from cereal with magnets, extracting DNA from strawberries and investigating rubber polymers by using oranges to pop balloons.

“The planning committee and I worked together with groups to hone their scientific concept and think creatively about how students could get their hands wet and learn through experimentation,” Mitchell said. “For example, one group was learning about acids and bases. There is a chemical in red cabbage called anthocyanin that serves as a pH indicator and it will change color depending on how acidic or basic the solution is. K students prepared a red cabbage pH indicator solution and then had K-12 students add it into acidic and basic solutions and observe a color change. Many of the parents would also engage with the science booths, and I believe events like this can bring out the inner child-like curiosity in all of us.”

Students participate in Family Science Night
K students helped Family Science Night attendees investigate the polarity of molecules using milk, food coloring and detergent.
Family Science Night
Family Science Night attendees explored protein folding using a computer program and origami.
Family Science Night 9
K students taught K-12 students and parents about genetics through taste inheritance by using a PTC test.

The K community made the night possible with involvement from the planning stages all the way through cleanup after the event.

“We had a lot of help, especially with funding from the Center for Civic Engagement and donated prize items from K Admissions and the K Bookstore,” Mitchell said. “I communicated with (CCE Director) Alison Geist throughout the planning stages, and (Associate Director for Community Partnerships) Teresa Denton tapped into the CCE’s amazing network of local schools and programs to invite community members to the event.”

Student organizations such as Sisters in Science and the College’s chapter of the American Chemical Society also assisted.

“I think our student involvement was the most rewarding part,” Mitchell said. “I’ve already known how amazing our students are, but they went above and beyond to make this event possible. I wanted to start smaller and more focused this year to see how it went, and next year I would love to invite other K students from science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines to host a booth.”

Family Science Night 4
K students showed Family Science Night attendees how to test the pH of household items using cabbage water.
K students helped K-12 students explore density by using oil, water and Alka-Seltzer to make lava lamps.
Family Science Night 13
K students taught community members how to extract DNA from strawberries during Family Science Night.

Family Science Night Experiments

  • Magnetic Munchies: extracting iron content in cereal using magnets
  • Fold It: exploring protein folding using a computer program and origami
  • Dancing Drawings: learning about density by watching dry erase drawings float
  • Butterfly Wings: creating colorful butterflies using coffee filter paper chromatography
  • Mini Volcanoes: investigating acid/base chemistry with baking soda and vinegar
  • Strawberry DNA: extracting DNA from strawberries
  • Ice Cream: exploring the freezing-point of water by making ice cream
  • The Lifecycle of Plants: planting herb seeds and taking them home to watch them grow
  • Magic Milk: investigating polarity of molecules using milk, food coloring and detergent
  • Lava Lamps: exploring density using oil, water and Alka-Seltzer to make lava lamps
  • Oranges and Balloons: investigating rubber polymers using oranges to pop balloons
  • Bitter or Bland: exploring the genetics of taste inheritance using a PTC test
  • DNA Bracelets: making DNA bracelets using the DNA sequence from various animals
  • Acid or Base: testing the pH of various household items using cabbage water as a pH indicator
  • Spies in Disguise, Invisible Ink: learning about acid/base chemistry by writing hidden messages

Volunteer Feedback

  • “I had so much fun running this booth and it was fun to be able to teach kids about chemistry. I feel like everything was running smoothly with some rush of people, but it was manageable.”
  • “This was a wonderful time! I heard phenomenal things from parents as they came out!”
  • “I had so much fun and would love to do it again! I loved seeing all of their reactions to our volcanoes!”

Parent Feedback

“The Family Science Night was absolutely wonderful. My children had the best time! My son is very interested in science, but my daughter has approached it more cautiously, although last night really made her more interested in it so I am grateful to you all!”

Future Physician Targets Tropical Diseases in Ghana

Kramer in the Centre for Research in Applied Biology
Rachel Kramer ’23 in the Centre for Research in Applied Biology (CeRAB) at UENR with Ankrah, Babae, Kramer and Rabi Baidoo from left to right.
Rachel Kramer in a classroom full of children
Kramer collecting samples from schoolchildren.
Rachel Kramer with four friends
Kramer and friends sharing a home-cooked meal by Ankrah during the “going-away party” they all threw for her at the end of the summer.

With the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, Kalamazoo College commonly celebrates the accomplishments of scientists such as Rachel Kramer ’23.

The day, first marked by the United Nations in 2015, encourages women scientists, and targets equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. Such a day is desired because U.N. statistics show that fewer than 30 percent of scientific researchers in the world are women and only about 30 percent of all female students select fields in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) to pursue in their higher education. Only about 22 percent of the professionals in cutting edge fields such as artificial intelligence are women, and representation among women is especially low professionally in fields such as information and communication technology, natural science, mathematics, statistics and engineering.

Rachel Kramer comforting a child providing a blood sample
Kramer often found herself comforting community members like this child as they gave their blood samples for tropical disease research.
Rachel Kramer with NeTroDis Research team at the University of Energy and Natural Resources
Rachel Kramer ’23 stands with a NeTroDis Research team at the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR). From left to right in the bottom row are Dr. Kenneth Bentum Otabil, Kramer, Ms. Blessing Ankrah, and Theophilus Nti Babae. From left to right in the top row are Charles Addai and Emmanual Bart-Plange.
Kramer enjoying fresh Ghanaian coconut
Kramer enjoying fresh Ghanaian coconut after Sunday service.

However, Kramer—a biochemistry major with a concentration in community and global health and a minor in Spanish—is bucking that trend. She will attend the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in July 2023. Plus, she completed 10 weeks of research last summer investigating health inequities in Ghana, Africa, while collecting data and researching Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD’s) for her Senior Integrated Project (SIP).

The lead up to her SIP opportunity began two summers ago when she decided to get into volunteer work abroad through International Volunteer Head Quarters (IVHQ). At that time, she spent two weeks in Ghana, where she performed health care outreach by providing wound care to people in remote areas under the supervision of local health professionals.

Rachel Kramer stands with four other people
Kramer, the NeTroDis Team and their study clinician, Dr. Vera Darko (far right), on the far left meet the president of the regional hospital (middle) to inform him of their research.
Ankrah and Otabil introduce Kramer to UENR’s Dean of Science at UENR, Professor SF Gyasi
Ankrah and Otabil introduce Kramer to UENR’s Dean of Science at UENR, Professor SF Gyasi.
Rachel Kramer hugging Blessing Ankrah
Kramer and her host mother, Blessing Ankrah.

While she was there, she saw people with parasitic diseases which she later found out were considered to be NTD’s. Such diseases are of special interest to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO). In fact, the two organizations have a roadmap for eradicating NTD’s by 2030, which involves working with local researchers in endemic regions to collect data to inform policy to better protect and serve the people affected by NTD’s.  

“I saw children 5 years old and younger with these ulcers half an inch deep in their ankles and feet,” Kramer said. “It struck me and I knew that these things shouldn’t be happening.”

Even before returning to Michigan, Kramer knew she wanted to go back to Ghana and develop her SIP there as her way of helping to solve the health issues she witnessed. She just didn’t know what might provide that opportunity.

Rachel Kramer standing with her SIP
Kramer in front of Kalamazoo College’s Dow Science Center, holding her 101-page SIP just before turning it in.
Tropical disease researchers pack into a van
Kramer and UENR students and staff packed into vans like this with all their gear to travel to fieldwork destinations.
What tropical disease researchers see under a microscope
A microscopic view of a participant sample.

After several random conversations asking people, including K alumni, about anyone doing research there, Kramer reached out through Twitter to Blessing Ankrah, a researcher with the NeTroDis Research Group, a non-governmental agency at the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) in Sunyani, Bono Region of Ghana.

“Two weeks later, she ended up responding and said she’d be happy to collaborate,” Kramer said. “We started talking on Zoom and WhatsApp, and she decided to have me work on a project where they were updating the prevalence rates of two neglected tropical diseases called schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis.”

People walking down a flooded dirt road
Terrain such as the one pictured were roads teams had to walk several miles on in order to reach some of the communities. This contributes to why diseases are considered neglected. They are difficult for researchers and health personnel to reach.
Researchers looking at books and forms to translate documents
Multilingual UENR students are seen translating the research forms from English to Twi so the community members, who speak Twi, could participate in the research.
Four at a birthday party
Kramer celebrating Doris Berkoh’s (professor of Biochemistry at UENR) birthday with other UENR Biological Science faculty and staff.

According to the CDC, schistosomiasis parasites live in some types of freshwater snails, and humans become infected when their skin touches contaminated water. Health-care professionals diagnose schistosomiasis through urine and stool samples. Within days of becoming infected, patients typically develop a rash or itchy skin. Fever, chills, cough and muscle aches can begin within a month or two of infection. If left untreated, this disease can become fatal.

Soil-transmitted helminthiasis, the CDC says, targets human intestines as parasites’ eggs are passed in feces. If an infected person defecates outside—near bushes, in a garden or on a field, for example—parasitic eggs are deposited on soil. People can ingest the parasites when they eat fruits and vegetables that have not been carefully cooked, washed or peeled. Some infections can cause a range of health problems, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood and protein loss, rectal prolapse, and slowed or stunted physical and cognitive growth. Similar to schistosomiasis, if untreated, this disease can become fatal.

Group photo at Mole National Park
Group photo of Kramer and the junior year biological science students on the field trip to Mole National Park
Rachel Kramer surrounded by children
Kramer celebrating Cultural Day at a local Montessori.
Rachel Kramer surrounded by community members
Kramer standing with members of a community NeTroDis researchers visited after watching them construct a hand-made xylophone with wooden planks, leaves and a hole in the ground.

Ankrah became a host mom to Kramer as both worked on the project to update and investigate the relevance, intensity and risk factors of schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis in selected rural and hard-to-reach communities in the Bono and Bono East regions of Ghana. The opportunity was funded by the Hough SIP Grant and the Collins Fellowship through Student Projects Abroad (SPA) funding, both of which were through Kalamazoo College. .

“This summer was an experience where I was not only a researcher, but I was also a student and a family member,” Kramer said. “Blessing was able to show me what the food was like, what the people were like, what the culture was like and it was just an amazing life experience.”

Students at Mole National Park
Kramer with UENR students in the savanna on the field trip to Mole National Park.
Rachel Kramer looking through a microscope
Kramer in the Centre for Research in Applied Biology (CeRAB) at UENR microscopically analyzing samples.
Picking out clothes from a pile
Bringing clothes for community members during fieldwork visits.

Yet research definitely remained the purpose of her visit. For the first three weeks, it was necessary for the researchers to perform paperwork during business hours to ensure the ethical approval of the project by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) committees at UENR. During the evening hours, Ankrah introduced Kramer to her family and friends including host brother Lord Owusu Ansah; the university’s president, vice president and dean of science; and regional hospital leaders.

When the five-week field work began, Kramer and her fellow researchers traveled to eight isolated communities that had as few as five and as many as 200 residents to collect socio demographic and qualitative data along with urine and stool samples.

Four researchers walking down a dirt road
NeTroDis team walking on the dirt road to get to the communities. From left to right Theophilus Nti Babae, Otabil, Divine and Kramer.
Rachel Kramer in front of a tree with large roots
Kramer at one of the community sites for field work.
Rachel Kramer hugging Blessing Ankrah
Kramer with Ankrah for their daily “pre-work selfie.”

“We would get up at 4:30 a.m. and ride in a packed van for about three hours,” Kramer said. “When we arrived to the communities, many times we would have to walk a distance with all of our gear. Some of these communities were only a few households and are located so far from public roads, and that’s why these diseases are considered neglected. It took us two hours to walk to one of the communities on foot and there was no way to get there with a car. Since there are so few people living in these remote places, there’s no way the government would fund roads to these communities.”

After traveling back to the UENR campus from the field, the researchers stored their samples in freezers before resting for a few hours and then returning to the lab around 7 p.m. in the evening when they analyzed up to hundreds of samples. The immediacy was imperative despite their long days because the urine and stool samples would go bad within 24 to 48 hours.

Rachel Kramer with Kenneth Bentum Otabil
Kramer standing with her head researcher, Dr. Kenneth Bentum Otabil.
Rachel Kramer and the vice chancellor of UENR
Rachel Kramer exchanging a gift with the vice chancellor of UENR after introducing NeTroDis’s summer research project to him.
Rachel Kramer surrounded by children
Kramer with children at local market.

After the field work, Kramer’s biggest roles were inputting data, helping with the preparation of samples, and microscopic analysis of the specimens.

“Once we got our data from all eight communities, we compiled all of it and I worked with a data analyst at the university who helped me compile it to get our overall prevalence rates and associate the risk factors to the positive cases,” Kramer said.

This work became the basis for her SIP.

Short woman pats Kramer on her head
“This was the first time I met someone in Ghana who was older than me yet shorter and we had so much fun dancing together when I visited this community,” Kramer said.
Ghanian woman wearing colorful clothes provides a blood sample
A research participant dressed in beautiful Ghanaian clothing gives her blood sample for research.
Rachel Kramer hugging Blessing Ankrah
Kramer with Ankrah for their daily “pre-work selfie.”

“Now that my written SIP has been submitted, all that’s left to do is present my SIP at the annual Chemistry and Biochemistry SIP Symposium during the spring trimester and then wait to find out whether I attain honors from the faculty for my work,” Kramer said. “So many people questioned why I decided to do something so big for my SIP since I have already been accepted to medical school. But just because I have been accepted doesn’t mean I need to take a step back, so I decided to pursue a passion instead. I did this because I have seen these diseases firsthand and how disproportionately they affect people of low socio-economic status in tropical regions. I was emotionally driven to take part in the global movement to end the neglect. Additionally, I knew that this opportunity would enhance my cultural competence which can help me be a better physician to people in the future. Eventually, I’d like to be a study clinician in similar studies and even create the policies that can protect and serve people. With this foundational-level research under my belt, I am motivated to continue my research focus on NTD’s in medical school.”

And this might not be the last of her research outside of medical school.

“I’m still in contact with my host mom,” Kramer said. “I have a number of people in Ghana I text every week just to talk about various things like the projects they’re working on. Currently, they have two new projects that are going to be funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation regarding an NTD called Onchocerciasis, which is transmitted through biting black flies. I asked Blessing if it is possible for me to work remotely while I’m in medical school on those projects, and she said I probably could, but it is also possible that I could go back to Ghana during this upcoming summer to join their new projects in projects in person. Overall, I loved being abroad and how it opened up my eyes to the world and cross-cultural differences. Being a future physician, I was introduced to the atrocities of Neglected Tropical Diseases and I saw just how invaluable being a part of the team that is working to end the neglect really is.”

Science Society Honors K Professor with Teaching Award

Regina Stevens-Truss Holds a Test Tube While Teaching Two Students for Science Society Award
Regina Stevens-Truss will receive the 2023 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education.

Regina Stevens-Truss, Kalamazoo College’s Dorothy H. Heyl Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is the recipient of the 2023 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education.

The ASBMB is a professional organization of science, one of the largest of its kind in the world. The award, instituted in 2005, credits an individual who encourages an effective teaching and learning of biochemistry and molecular biology while demonstrating a commitment to pedagogical engagement and teaching innovation. As one of 14 professionals from around the world being honored by the ASBMB, Stevens-Truss will give a presentation about her teaching and learning trajectory at the society’s 2023 annual meeting, Discover BMB, in March in Seattle.

“Being selected for this honor surfaces all of my humble bones,” Stevens-Truss said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I foresee being nominated and even less being selected for this award. My imposter syndrome persona is in full bloom right now, and I can hear all of the voices that tell me regularly ‘accept a compliment, Regina.’ This award means the world to me, I am honored and humbled, and can’t believe the list of pioneers that my name will be listed with.”

Stevens-Truss served on the Minority Affairs Committee (MAC), now known as the Maximizing Access Committee, as well as on the Education and Professional Development (EPD) Committee of the ASBMB, where she was part of the steering committee that created the concept-driven teaching strategies that laid the foundation for the organization’s certification exam. She also was the principal investigator in 2012 of a National Science Foundation grant that supported a STEM K-12 outreach initiative by the society called Hands-on Outreach to Promote Engagement in Science (HOPES – see pages 37-38 at this link).

Since joining the faculty at K in January 2000, Stevens-Truss has been teaching Chemical Reactivity, Biochemistry, Medicinal Chemistry and Infection: Global Health and Social Justice. Current research in her lab focuses on testing a variety of compounds (peptides and small molecules) for antimicrobial activity. She is also the College’s director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grant, which was awarded to K’s science division in 2018. In 2016, she received K’s highest teaching honor, the Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Excellence in Teaching.

Stevens-Truss earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry from the University of Toledo. She held two fellowships at the University of Michigan between 1993 and 1999, one of which was a lectureship in medicinal chemistry.

“I joined the faculty at K in a department with the BEST team of educators and students that I could have asked for,” she said. “From day one, my chemistry and biochemistry department colleagues have supported every hair-brained idea I have come up with. They make me think hard about teaching by always keeping our students front-and-center in our conversations on this topic. My students have pushed me to be better, to care more, to guide them through their journey of learning and growth.  And, without all of these folks, this award would not have happened. This award is not just for me, but for all who have been in my life in the last 20-plus years. You know who you are!”

Signing Day Spotlights Students Headed to Graduate School

Amanda Morrison Signing Day
Amanda Morrison ’22
Annie Tyler '22 Signing Day
Annie Tyler ’22

Bright careers await the seniors graduating soon from Kalamazoo College, including those in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Six of them were spotlighted recently during a Signing Day, featuring some of the scholars who are moving on to graduate programs this fall.

Much like student-athletes would gather to sign letters of intent when selecting their collegiate destinations, the chemistry students met to officially declare their educational next steps. The event was first envisioned by Subi Thakali ’21, Alex Cruz ’21 and Angela Ruiz ’21, who desired an academic answer to the accolades a student-athlete might receive during a Signing Day. Professor of Chemistry Jeff Bartz organized it that first year and even borrowed a photography backdrop from the athletics department.

Now, grad-school bound chemistry students from K receive some brief fame through social media as their pictures and destinations are featured in the department’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. Suja Thakali ’23, a leader in the Higher-Level Education in Dow student organization, planned much of this year’s event with Bartz again borrowing a backdrop. The students among the honorees on the Signing Day were:

Lia Schroeder
Lia Schroeder ’22
Grace McKnight on Signing Day
Grace McKnight ’22
  • Annie Tyler, who is heading to Yale University for a Ph.D. in organic chemistry
  • Amanda Morrison, who will join the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis for a master’s degree in medicinal chemistry
  • Grace McKnight, who will attend the Grainger School of Engineering at the University of Illinois for a Ph.D. in theoretical and applied mechanics
  • Lia Schroeder, matriculating at Rutgers University for a Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry
  • Faith Flinkingshelt, moving on to the University of California-Irvine for a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry
  • Ola Bartolik, who is seeking a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Michigan.

The chemistry department expects the tradition to continue next year alongside students from the biology department. But for this year, Tyler’s destination is especially noteworthy as she will be the first Heyl scholar from K to be awarded a Heyl Fellowship in more than 15 years. Heyl scholars are high-achieving high school graduates from Kalamazoo County, who receive full-tuition scholarships to attend K in a STEM program or Western Michigan University’s Bronson School of Nursing. K grads who successfully matriculate to Yale are eligible to apply for the Fellowship.

Ola Bartolik
Ola Bartolik ’22
Faith Flinkingshelt
Faith Flinkingshelt ’22

Tyler—a chemistry and religion double major, Kalamazoo Central High School graduate and Kalamazoo Promise scholar—said Yale wasn’t a graduate school on her radar until she realized the possibility of attending on a Heyl Fellowship.

“When I visited the campus and chemistry building, Yale was the only place I visited where I didn’t have an ‘I like this, but here’s this issue I have with it’ feeling,” Tyler said. “I liked everything about it. I liked that it was in a new place, and that they seemed really excited about recruiting students. I could very easily picture myself at Yale for the next five years.”

The Heyl Fund will cover up to four years of Tyler’s tuition and fees along with a stipend in the Fellowship. For the upcoming academic year, those costs add up to more than $80,000.

“I’m really honored that I was chosen for the Heyl Scholarship and the Heyl Fellowship,” Tyler said. “The scholarship allowed me to attend Kalamazoo College in the first place. To see that my last four years of work at K have allowed me to become a Heyl Fellow makes me really proud and excited to continue the work.”

Chemistry Student Selected as National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow

Portrait of National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow Ola Bartolik '22
Ola Bartolik ’22 has been selected by the National
Science Foundation as a Graduate Research
Fellow to support her graduate career at the
University of Michigan.

Ola Bartolik ’22 has been selected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a Graduate Research Fellow to support her graduate career at the University of Michigan.

Bartolik will graduate from Kalamazoo College in June with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a biochemistry concentration and a psychology minor. In August, she will begin a Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan, where she previously participated in research in the lab of Paul Jenkins for her Senior Integrated Project.

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support, including an annual stipend of $34,000 and a cost of education allowance of $12,000 to the institution. The fellowship also provides access to opportunities for professional development.

Approximately 2,000 applicants are offered a fellowship from among more than 12,000 applicants per competition.

“I think it’s really important that students at K be aware of the fellowship,” Bartolik said. Bartolik said the application process offered experience in writing a research proposal and bolstered her grad school applications by showing she was already thinking about funding and research. While Bartolik had considered taking a gap year before entering graduate school, the combination of the fellowship offer with the community she has already found at the University of Michigan while working on her SIP proved irresistible.

“I was having a lot of doubt as to whether I could really put myself through a Ph.D. or whether I had the skills and the knowledge to do it,” Bartolik said. “If the National Science Foundation saw enough potential to invest in me, that makes me think I’m ready for grad school.

“When I posted the announcement on my academic Twitter, Paul Jenkins retweeted it, and the University of Michigan neuroscience program retweeted it, too. The head of the program emailed me that I should be really proud. I hadn’t even committed to graduate school yet and they were already celebrating with me.”

Bartolik was also quick to share the news with the chemistry department at K.

“We are very proud of Ola,” said Blakely Tresca, Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “This is an amazing accomplishment for an undergraduate student before starting a Ph.D. program. Ola is the first chemistry major in 25 years to earn this honor while still a student at K.”

Bartolik will earn her Ph.D. as part of the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) at the University of Michigan, an umbrella program that comprises a variety of research fields including neuroscience, pharmacology, biochemistry and more.

“I’m really interested in trying to combine either neuroscience and pharmacology, or neuroscience and chemistry, for designing new drugs or new molecules that could be used for research or for therapeutic purposes,” Bartolik said. “My goal has always been to combine chemistry with neuroscience because I like chemistry; I don’t want to let go of it. Neuroscience can be very bio-heavy and I feel like having a chemist’s perspective on biological systems like the brain is really valuable.”

While her graduate work in PIBS is funded, Bartolik said, research opportunities can be limited based on each lab’s available funding.

“The fellowship opens me up to more lab opportunities and makes it easier to secure a spot in a lab,” Bartolik said.

At this point, Bartolik is interested in possible careers with a pharmaceutical or biomedical company as well as the field of science communication.

“Something that’s been interesting to me more and more is science communication, and how to effectively communicate science to people who don’t have the background,” Bartolik said. “The SIP was good practice; even though it was to a chemistry major audience, I still had to explain how neurons work and why this research is important. I found that I like presenting; I don’t get as nervous as I used to. And I like to geek out about my work around neuroscience, so I think that’s something I want to explore more, opportunities in journalism or some sort of science communication.”

In addition to the professional affirmation and practical benefits, the award is personally meaningful to Bartolik.

“My father passed away in 2017 from a heart attack,” Bartolik said. “He always supported me in high school, in everything I did. And I feel like he would have been so proud of me. I felt him with me, celebrating. My parents left everything behind in Poland so my sisters and I could have a better life and more opportunities. I feel like I’m fulfilling that and trying to make the most out of the life I’ve been given.

“I feel like this is what I was meant to do.”

NSF has funded Graduate Research Fellowships since 1952. More than 70 percent of fellows complete their doctorates within 11 years, 42 fellows have gone on to become Nobel laureates, and more than 450 have become members of the National Academy of Sciences. Applications are generally due in October. For more information, visit the National Science Foundation website.