These outstanding students offer a snapshot of the nearly 215 undergraduate students that major in Chemistry at UConn. Click on their photos below to learn about their favorite classes, research experiences, and why they chose to major in Chemistry!

Lacie Dube
Elyse Estra
Joshua Paolillo
Alison Salamatian
Taryn Wisniewski
Spencer Yang

Meet:

Lacie Dube

Lacie Dubé

Expected Graduation: '19

Hometown: Naugatuck, CT

Scholarships: CT Governors Scholarship, Muller-Westerhoff Scholarship

Why did you choose to major in Chemistry?

I love learning how the world works at a molecular level, I think having a general understanding of the world makes me appreciate its beauty even more.

What has been your favorite class so far?

My favorite class so far was Intermediate Inorganic Chemistry with Dr. Leadbeater. The concepts were challenging but Dr. Leadbeater would teach applications that were extremely interesting, which helped with the content.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation I hope to attend a graduate school to obtain my Ph.D. in chemistry, and I hope to devote the rest of my life to research.

Describe your research experience and the impact it has had on you.

I started research my freshman year and I honestly think it got me through some of the hardest times that I encountered while in college. I believe that working in the lab helped show me that I could excel at a career in chemistry even if I was struggling in classes, which helped motivate me to try harder.

Describe your internship experience and the impact it has had on you.

I spent a summer as an intern in the research and development department for MacDermid Enthone, which impacted me a lot. I think it was important to work in an industry job to see what it was like. I had an amazing boss who graduated from UConn; he was great because he let me run experiments I was curious about even if he internally knew that they wouldn’t work. I always think that the best way of learning is finding out for yourself and asking the question of why.

Has a certain advisor had a significant impact on you?

The biggest impact of my academic career was when Dr. Jing Zhao let me work in her laboratory. I was just a freshman, two weeks into my first semester, when I emailed her asking for a research position. I knew that her accepting me into her lab was a risk for her, as I had not even completed General Chemistry. Dr. Zhao encouraged me to learn the ropes in the lab, ask basic concept questions, and succeed at my own pace.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

I would encourage incoming freshmen to never be afraid to ask questions and never be afraid to fail. I think there was too many times in which I let a comment or a bad grade influence my perception of the type of chemist I could be, but each time that I worked through it I had become an even better scientist. Earning a degree in chemistry is hard, but completely worth it at the end.

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Elyse Estra

Elyse Estra

Expected Graduation: '19

Awards/ Scholarships: UConn Award, New England Scholar, Dean's List

Hometown: Woodbridge, CT

Clubs/Activities: Club Triathlon Team (Treasurer), Q Center General Chemistry Tutor, Organic Chemistry II Recitation Leader

Why did you choose to major in Chemistry?

Chemistry has fascinated me since high school. It requires mathematics to prove scientific theory, but also a creative mind to envision molecular complexities. I love the diversity in its disciplines, offering many opportunities to explore how biological and non-living systems materialize and physically interact with their environments. Chemistry is an endless puzzle, necessary to define the world around us.

What has been your favorite class at UConn?

I really enjoy most of my classes, but a favorite has been the first semester of Physical Chemistry with Dr. He. The content covered thermodynamics and a little introduction to kinetics, really deepening our understanding of what was taught in general chemistry. The concepts were challenging and the exams were difficult, but the course was extremely well-supported and rewarding. I have always appreciated professors who really care about their students' success, and Dr. He always went out of his way to hold Friday evening review sessions and arrange for us to work with our "groupies."

What is your favorite place on campus?

Definitely the Dairy Bar. I'm a big fan of banana chocolate chip, and sometimes you can find it at Whitney Dining Hall!

Describe your research experience and the impact it has had on you.

Since the spring of my sophomore year, I have worked in Dr. Basu's research group, contributing to various studies of carcinogens and the lesions they cause. I use organic synthesis techniques to create specific chemical adducts that mirror the way carcinogens attach to our DNA. Although I love the work I do and the opportunities that have come from it, the best part about the research is definitely the people. The graduate students are very encouraging and give great advice, while the undergraduates have become some of my closest friends.

What is your favorite memory of UConn?

I just generally love the excitement buzzing around campus after returning to school each fall. It's fun getting organized for the new school year, reuniting with friends and enjoying the warm weather.

What are your plans after graduation?

I hope to attend dental school after graduating. I see myself as a general dentist or endodontist, maybe pursuing research or going into academia. I love teaching and talking to people, so dentistry is perfect for someone who loves science and using her hands, but also educating people on oral health and hygiene.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

To be open minded. You are going to meet a lot of different people from a lot of different upbringings, so it's important to be culturally sensitive. Do not be afraid to stand up for your own thoughts and beliefs, but do listen to the other side of the conversation. Also, learn how to navigate the bus schedule! It could be a real time saver in the mornings.

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Joshua Paolillo Headshot

Joshua Paolillo

Expected Graduation: '19

Awards/ Scholarships: Dr. Victor Rizza Scholarship, Mueller-Westerhoff Scholarship, DeStefano-Rossi Scholarship

Hometown: North Haven, CT

Clubs/Activities: UConn Chemistry Club (Lead Demonstrator, Vice President)

Why did you choose to become a chemistry major?

Ever since I can remember I’ve been driven to understand the world around me. Throughout my early educational years, this led me to be passionate about science. When I reached high school and took my first chemistry course, that passion for science quickly became a passion for chemistry specifically. Chemistry has the perfect balance of fundamental scientific principles and real world application.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

My favorite class at UConn so far has been Inorganic with Dr. Leadbeater. The course covered a lot of relevant and very interesting material that showed the application of chemistry into other areas of science. I learned a lot and really increased my understanding of chemistry and its applications.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduation I plan to go to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. After that I hope to get a job in pharmaceuticals.

Describe your research experience and the impact it has had on you.

I have been doing research since my sophomore year in the lab of Dr. Leadbeater. I’ve been working with photocatalysts and their applications in performing useful oxidative transformations when combined catalytic amounts of a recyclable organic oxidant. The time I have spent doing research has helped me to develop many valuable skills both in and out of the lab. It has been one of the most important experiences in making me a better chemist and in helping me to achieve my goals.

Describe your internship experience and the impact it has had on you.

I spent a summer at a biotech company in San Francisco called Denali Therapeutics. While there, I worked as a process chemist and was exposed to the world of industrial chemistry. My time there was very impactful and insightful. I learned a lot, got exposed to new reactions, and got to synthesize compounds on larger scales than I ever had. I was exposed to new technology and connected with a lot of professional chemists. I also got to learn a little about aspects of drug development from other areas of science along with the chemistry side.

Has a certain advisor had a significant impact on you?

Dr. Leadbeater has had a large impact on me. He has given me a lot of guidance throughout my time here in both research and other aspects of life. I know that I would not be where I am today without that guidance.

What advice would you give to incoming freshman?

Don’t be afraid to get involved! Try to get involved, especially in research, as early as possible. The earlier you start, the more you will get out of your time at UConn.

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Alison Salamatian

Expected Graduation: '18

Hometown: Manchester, CT

Awards/Scholarships: Mueller-Westerhoff, &
Presidents to Presidents,

Clubs/Activities: Undergraduate Research,
UConn Quidditch Team

Why did you choose to major in Chemistry?

I chose chemistry because I always enjoyed the sciences, especially chemistry, and I wanted a job after college.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

Inorganic Chemistry Lab has been my favorite class at UConn so far. Not only do you learn a lot but I got to work with interesting techniques, bright cheerful colored compounds, and caring and cheerful TAs.

Describe your experience abroad and how this influenced your studies.

I was in a two year REU program with Princeton University. I spent the first half conducting research at Princeton and the second half in the Czech Republic conducting research in a remodeled castle. This experienced influenced the way I view my studies since it showed me the practical application of science. Science is about discoveries not just memorizing facts.

Describe your research experience and the impact it has had on you.

I have conducted research at UConn in Dr. Sotzing's lab, at Princeton University, and in the Czech Republic in polymers, ecology, and biochemistry respectively. Every time I have conducted research I gain new confidence, skills and a feeling of accomplishment.

What is your favorite memory of UConn?

My favorite memory of UConn was the Chemistry Award Ceremony. I had applied to a bunch of scholarships and decided to go in the hopes that I would get one. There was pizza and the people were nice but I was growing more and more disappointed as every scholarship had been called but one and my name had not be called. When they called my name for the  Mueller-Westerhoff scholarship it took me a minute to recognize my name. Afterward it took me about an hour to actually accomplish anything but grin from ear to ear.

Has a certain professor had a significant impact on you?

I have to thank Professor Sotzing for both allowing me to work in his lab and challenging me to be my best. I remember during a final review session for his Organic II class he asked for someone to come solve a synthesis on the board in front of the whole class. I did it even though it was way out of my comfort zone. I have learned a lot of chemistry and confidence from Professor Sotzing.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

Apply for everything even if you think it is impossible you will ever succeed. I applied to many programs and scholarships including the Princeton summer program the year before coming to UConn. I was amazed to have been accepted by the Princeton program. Five years ago if you had told me I would be a senior chemistry major at UConn with a 4.0 and research experience from Princeton I would have laughed. So apply to everything. It is time consuming, frequently disappointing and you might not get chosen but I can tell you for sure: you definitely won’t be chosen if you don’t apply. You never know what might happen. Always keep striving.

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Taryn Wisniewski

Taryn Wisniewski

Expected Graduation: '19

2nd Major: Education (Sciences)

Hometown: Oxford, CT

Awards/Scholarships: Hach Chemistry Teacher Scholarship,
Dr. Victor Rizza Memorial Scholarship, &
Presidential Scholarship

Clubs/Activities: Honors Council,
Honors Initiative for Prospective Students (HIPS),
Husky Ambassador Program,
Peer Allies Through Honors (PATH) Mentor,
UNIV Facilitator, &
Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society

Why did you choose to major in Chemistry?

I chose chemistry because my high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Blozzon, helped me discover my passion for science and inspired me to really appreciate how vital chemistry can be. Chemistry is so ingrained in all other aspects of science because it is the basis for how and why substances act the way they do, and I find it interesting that this can be applied in so many ways throughout life.

Why did you choose UConn?

I chose UConn because it has amazing programs for what I want to do, an incredible School of Education and world-renowned chemistry professors, and because the campus has always felt both invigorating and inviting. UConn has so many different opportunities to offer, and from the moment I came here, it felt like home.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

My favorite class so far was actually my one-credit freshman seminar about photography. It was nice to take a break from all my math and science courses—though interesting, they can be pretty difficult and heavy—and focus on something artistic for two hours a week. It was really fun.

What are your plans after graduation?

I’m applying into the NEAG School of Education here at UConn, and if I succeed in that, I’ll stay here for a year of grad school in order to meet the proper chemistry and education requirements to become a high school chemistry teacher. I’ve always dreamed of being a teacher, so I’m hoping I can get into it quickly after graduating.

What is your favorite memory of UConn?

My favorite memory at UConn so far is probably the first basketball game I went to at Gampel. I was never a big fan of college basketball before coming here, but when I went to my first game, it was hard not to get swept up in the excitement of it all. Basketball season is when our campus really comes alive, and at games you feel so connected to your fellow students…I love it.

What is your favorite place on campus?

Currently my favorite place on campus is the Beanery. It’s is a lovely spot to grab a caffeine boost for coffee addicts like me while chatting with a friend or doing some work. It’s one of those places that always has a happy, comfortable vibe, whether it’s pouring rain or sunny outside.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

The biggest thing I would tell a freshmen is to not worry too much. Sometimes it can be hard not to get consumed by the work and the stress, but it’s so important to remember to relax and have fun, too. I believe you should try your best in every class you take, but you’ll be so much happier if you also make some time for yourself and not just your books. Go to a sports game, read something for fun, get dinner with your friends: just don’t drive yourself insane from being locked in the library all the time.

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Spencer Yang

Spencer Yang

Expected Graduation: '21

Hometown: Boston, MA

Clubs/Activities: Minority Association of Pre-medical Students, Chinese Undergraduate Student Association, Student Health Outreach Team, Pre-Med Society

Why did you choose to major in Chemistry?

I chose to major in chemistry because I find chemistry jokes really intriguing. All of the good ones argon but it's the bad ones that I find hilarious.

Were there any challenges that you had to overcome while at UConn so far?

One of the challenges that I had to overcome is to do enough planning. When I was in high school, I would never use the calendar app on my phone. Now, I realized I wouldn't be able to remember every exam date, every club meeting time, and other miscellaneous things. College life is busy. So, I ended up using the calendar app to plan and to remind me of the daily tasks I had to complete.

What has been your favorite class at UConn so far?

My favorite class at UConn so far is a graduate course which Dr. Quardokus taught during my second semester. Although ninety-five percent of the material seemed alien to me, I find the class compelling because Dr. Q and her students had a great sense of humor and I also get to acquire knowledge about things that I had never heard of before.

What are your plans after graduation?

Initially, I was planning to attend medical school and become a surgeon after a few years. Now, I plan to attend a graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. degree.

What has been your most influential UConn experience so far?

One of the most influential experience happened to be an office hour with Dr. Abbott. It was the time of the semester where I began to try not as hard as I would like myself to do. Since I was aware that my effort was quite lackluster, I went to Dr. Abbott for a few words of motivation. And four words were engraved in my memory: "Do something about it." Concise and effective.

Are there any friends you would like to thank?

I'm grateful for meeting nice and friendly people on campus, especially I would like to thank my friends Kevin and Andy. I had a great time with them in my first year at UConn and I couldn't wish for anything better.

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen?

My advice for incoming freshmen would be to not worry and feel burnt out near the end of the semester. Finish strong and you'll feel fulfilled once the semester is over.

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