Student Profiles - David Walton
Major: Chemistry with a minor in mathematics
Hometown: Unionville, Pa.
You received the 2012 Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award, what does this award mean to you personally?
I had the honor of meeting Dr. Ali-Zaidi, founding member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) board of governors, when I received the award, which made this honor very special. People like Dr. Ali-Zaidi, who create awards like this, provide an even greater incentive for students to hold high standards
The Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award recognizes outstanding academic achievement and participation in extra- and co-curricular activities.
Overall, what does the essay you wrote for this award say about you?
It is about how I did not apply myself in academia before I came to Millersville and how I became inspired by the excellent faculty here. It is about how grateful I am to the PASSHE and Millersville for this University and all of my success here. I am especially indebted to the inspiring and knowledgeable faculty that have made learning enjoyable.
It’s noted in your essay that you would like to become a chemistry professor in the future and help guide students like yourself. When did you decide to follow this career path?
I decided to become a chemistry professor sometime during the second day of general chemistry my freshmen year taught by Dr. Rajaseelan. Since then, I have tutored general chemistry and organic chemistry, which I love doing. It gives me an excuse to talk about chemistry.
How has being involved with independent research in the chemistry department helped you grow as professional?
The independent research projects I work on are separate from my classes, which allow my research to be pretty open-ended. One of the most crucial differences between Millersville and other universities is that we do not have a graduate program in chemistry. This translates into a huge difference in undergraduates’ access to labs, instruments and current research. Since being comfortable in a research lab takes time and experience, this is really important. Everything may not go according to plan like it does in the three-hour lab periods we’re used to in undergraduate classes and the work can often be frustrating. Having access to all of these instruments and lab time certainly helps to make something eventually work, and then it’s totally worth it. I recently had the honor of publishing two articles with Dr. Rajaseelan, Jonathan Rajaseelan, Dr. Laura Anna and Dr. Gary S. Nichols in the journal Acta Crystallographica Section E.
Can you describe to us what a typical day in your shoes looks likes while working at the lab?
I synthesize potential catalysts and test their catalytic properties in a variety of reactions, and determine the structure of each new compound. So far, I’ve made and characterized more than 10 new compounds, and our initial catalytic trials were promising.
How were you able to obtain the summer experience at North Carolina State University (NCSU) within their chemistry department?
I applied to the National Science Foundation’s funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at NCSU, knowing a particular faculty member that I wanted to work with. Our department has a history of sending capable students, so I’m sure that Millersville’s reputation facilitated my acceptance to the program.
How did the hands-on experience at NCSU further your knowledge in the field?
The main advantage of the REU program was that my days were dedicated exclusively to research, which is a lot like graduate school. I also gained experience in using unfamiliar instruments, since I was working on different projects. For example, I worked with a gas chromatograph with flame ionization detector every day. This device separates compounds in a long tube, and then burns them at the end of it, which produces a signal proportional to their concentration. Although we have multiple gas chromatographs at Millersville, I wouldn’t normally get to work with that type of instrument in my research.
Is there a particular award you have received that stands out to you as being the most monumental?
I am appreciative of all the awards I’ve received relating to chemistry, mathematics and athletics, but I was most honored to receive the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s Dr. Syed R. Ali-Zaidi Award for Academic Excellence because it’s awarded to one person from all of the PASSHE universities, and I was happy that Millersville received it.
What is your secret behind maintaining a 3.99 GPA and being extremely involved? What is your advice to other students wishing to achieve this?
I study a lot, and it is always easier to do that when you enjoy what you are learning. My suggestion for other students is to find something you’re interested in.
What is your advice to students that aren’t pushing themselves to their full potential?
Four years is such a short amount of time. Yet, what you do in this time can have a huge impact on the rest of your life.
Where are you looking to attend graduate school?
I am going to the California Institute of Technology in California this fall for their Ph.D. program in chemistry.
What will you miss most about Millersville?
I will miss the professors here, as I have relied on their advice and guidance for four years. On a more trivial note, I will miss our unbridled access to the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer, which is similar to the Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology used on the shows “House M.D.” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” These machines monitor spinning nuclei, and are useful for the identification of chemical compounds and their structure. At other universities, it is common to have to schedule 15-minute blocks of time or so in advance to use this equipment.
How has Millersville helped you to succeed?
The research opportunities, access to quality instrumentation in the lab, high academic standards and amazing professors at Millersville have allowed me to be successful. Because the class sizes are small, by the end of a semester, everyone knows each other and the professor. This builds a network of people you can come back to for help in the future.