Vincent Pistritto

BS, chemistry; BA, music

 

Hometown: Woodbury, Connecticut

Extracurriculars: Member of UConn Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra; student coordinator with Honors Initiatives for Prospective Students (HIPS)

Scholarships: Dr. Victor Rizza Scholarship, Dr. Charles E. Waring Chemistry Scholarship, James L. and Shirley A. Draper Scholarship, William R. Granquist Jr. Memorial Scholarship; William P. O'Hara Endowed Scholarship; C. William R. Granquist, Jr. Memorial Scholarship

The College of Liberal Arts and Science profiled members of the Class of 2018, including Chemistry and Music major Vincent Pistritto:

Why did you choose to study chemistry and music?

When I took high school chemistry, I found it super interesting how you could predict reactivities and toy with things based on simple properties of the elements, which I found fascinating, and I really wanted to explore it further. UConn offered me the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate, which I've done extensively and really enjoyed.

Music was a simple choice. I knew I wanted to continue playing clarinet at a high level, so the BA program afford me the opportunity to complete a dual degree. However, I wasn't always a music major. I was only a chemistry major my freshman year, but I still really liked playing. I play the clarinet, and I joined the symphonic band, which is open to high-caliber players who are non-majors as well as music majors. The director told me, "You know, you're a really good player. You should think about double majoring, if you want." So, I enrolled, and I officially become a member of the School of Fine Arts entering my sophomore year. I've been working on the music requirements for only the past three years, so I'll graduate after quite a hectic schedule from both schools.

Who do you do undergraduate research with?

I work with Associate Professor Nicholas Leadbeater in the chemistry department on the development of environmentally friendly organic transformations. The chief way that I've been involved with this is through the use of recyclable oxoammonium salt. Once it's used up in a reaction, we can take that end product and regenerate our starting reagent, so it's recyclable in that sense.

What do you plan to do after you graduate?

I've been accepted to a few graduate programs in chemistry, and I plan to pursue my Ph.D. Wherever I end up for grad school, I will find an ensemble to play in as well.

What is your professional goal with chemistry?

After completing the Ph.D., it's my goal to work in the pharmaceutical industry toward the development of what we refer to as active pharmaceutical ingredients. When you take medicine, it's not only the compound that heals you; there are a lot of binders and fillers to make sure that the actual healing compound gets to the place in the body it needs to get to. Chemists actually synthesize the healing molecule; that's what I want to do.

Is there a reason you want to get into the pharmaceutical industry?

The past two summers I've interned at pharmaceutical companies. First, in 2016, I was at Pfizer in Groton, and more recently I was up in Boston with a smaller pharmaceutical company called Vertex Pharmaceuticals. And I really, really enjoyed my time there with the process chemistry team, which is the team that takes the small-scale synthesis and re-imagines it for large-scale synthesis and mass production. I know that's what I want to do as a career.

How has UConn prepared you for your future career?

I think it's been the fact that I've been so involved in undergraduate research throughout my 4 years here. I joined the lab the spring semester of my freshman year, and things have just taken off since then. By the time I graduate, I should be an author on three papers. Moving forward from UConn, I've put myself in a pretty good position to get into some top-flight chemistry programs for Ph.D., which I'm really excited about.

How have your extracurricular activities helped prepare you for a career?

I've viewed my extra curriculars as an escape, which I think is pretty important because lab life can get intense, especially when things don’t work, things don't work, things don’t work...it happens more often than not! You don't know how much failure is associated with research. Playing in ensembles can be stressful, in terms of needing to practice, and it can be a pressure-packed situation, especially in a concert. But those 5-6 hours of rehearsal a week offer an escape at the same time. They also taught me time management skills–not only are the curricula of chemistry and music both packed, but they're also on opposite ends of campus, which doesn't help!

Who is your favorite professor and/or class?

My favorite class was Professor of Chemistry William Bailey's Honors Organic Chemistry I course. It changed my way of thinking about things, because high school, to be honest, is a lot of memorization. But this class really got down to the nitty gritty concepts and foundations of organic chemistry, which I found fascinating.

In terms of a professor, Dr. Leadbeater has given me so many opportunities to develop as a researcher. My first 2 years in the lab I was working underneath graduate students, but ever since I successfully submitted my University Scholar proposal, I've been driving the research I envisioned. Now I'm in charge of the project, and I have other undergrad students that I'm directing and telling them what chemistry needs to be done. For him to have given me that opportunity is only going to play well moving forward as a graduate student where I will no doubt have to mentor other undergraduates.

How has UConn shaped you as a person?

I think the one thing I've really gotten out of my time, is to embrace who you are and don't be scared to be different. As a dual degree student, people always say: “Well, those two majors don't have anything in common, what are you doing?” But at the same time, it's my education, and I had room to do it and I wanted to do it, so I embraced the challenge of it. It hasn't been easy, but it's been quite fulfilling.

Do you think UConn as an institution supports that?

Yes, I would say so, on both sides of the spectrum. I was talking to our wind ensemble director, who is retiring, after the last concert in the fall semester. I thanked him for taking a risk on me–to take a risk on somebody who's a dual degree student, who could have crashed and burned but didn't–I'm really grateful. He said he didn't care that I was dual degree; he said, "You're a good player, and I knew you would figure it out," which I did. In a nutshell, I think this embodies the attitude of all the professors at UConn. You will find support in whatever you want to do so long as you’re willing to work hard for it.

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Story courtesy of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences