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Southeastern Graduate receives National Science Foundation Grant to attend Penn State Program, Continue Research

Southeastern chemistry major Devin Schwaibold successfully defends his honors senior thesis, "Boron-Mediated Anti-selective Aldol Reactions of N, N-dialkylarylamides." The Ponchatoula native will begin studying at Penn State University to continue his research and take advantage of his recent honor, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship that will provide funding for Ph.D. studies.

Tonya Lowentritt

June 6, 2024

HAMMOND – A recent Southeastern Louisiana University honors graduate has received the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program grant to further his academic career at Pennsylvania State University. Devin Schwaibold, who graduated from Southeastern in May with a degree in chemistry, was offered a position in the PhD program at Penn State to continue the research he began at Southeastern.

The NSF Fellowship is a prestigious award aimed at supporting graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The fellowship provides financial support, including a stipend and allowances for research and professional development, allowing recipients to focus on their studies and research without the burden of financial concerns.

“The NSF GRFP is a highly competitive and esteemed recognition that provides financial support and networking opportunities to outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines,” said College of Honors and Excellence Dean Claire Procopio. “This achievement not only highlights Devin’s academic excellence, but also signifies his potential for significant contributions to the field of chemistry.”

A resident of Ponchatoula, Schwaibold worked with Associate Professor of Chemistry Prem Chanda in the Chanda research group at Southeastern the past two years on diastereoselective aldol reactions of arylacetamides. His future goals are to go into the synthetic materials field and apply the reactions he has been working on to make a potential precursor to aromatase inhibitors. According to Schwaibold, this will give him the ability to continue doing synthetic work, the most enjoyable part of chemistry for him.

“Aromatase is a protein within the human body that has the potential to cause breast cancer due to an overproduction of estrogen, especially in postmenopausal women,” he explained. “An aromatase inhibitor can occupy the active site of the aromatase protein, ceasing its ability to produce estrogen, and therefore majorly lowering the risk of breast cancer.”

To be accepted into the fellowship program, applicants had to submit a research proposal on a project that could be completed over the course of graduate school. The proposals were judged in two areas – intellectual merit and broader impacts. Intellectual merit is the ability for the research to advance the knowledge in the selected field, while broader impacts is the potential impact the research may have within society as a whole.

“These are very competitive programs,” said Chanda, Schwaibold’s thesis director. “Devin is above and beyond in his studies, and I expect him to do well at Penn State.”

“This scholarship allowed me to be competitive when searching for graduate schools,” Schwaibold said. “This is an honor, and I certainly look forward to the next five years of working on my Ph.D. in chemistry.”

Schwaibold said Southeastern did a great job in preparing him for his future research, particularly the work he has done with Chanda’s group.

“Dr. Chanda has given me the freedom to develop as an independent researcher, for which I couldn’t be more thankful,” he said. “By joining the group, I essentially was able to grow my own project and work through obstacles with help from Dr. Chanda without having to hold my hand at every step, helping me run into growing pains and learning from them. I wouldn’t be the researcher I am today without my experiences within the labs I’ve been able to work in over my time at Southeastern.”

The grant will be a huge advantage for Schwaibold, he said, during his first years of graduate school. It will give him more freedom to look into research topics that interest him instead of having to conform to the research plans that are approved by the grants his lab receives.

“Since I’m bringing my own funding with me, it also offers the opportunity to join a research group that interests me but doesn’t have much funding yet, as I won’t be relying on my advisor for money,” he said. “Overall, the fellowship simply gives me a lot more flexibility that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

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