Charlie Swanson 2011
What inspired you to pursue a biochemistry major?
Going into college, I had various career aspirations including teaching, forensic science, medicine, and business. After talking to representatives in each of those fields, it was clear that I needed to form a strong academic background. Since many careers involve the collaboration between subjects and ideas, I decided to explore biochemistry because it would provide me with the best opportunity to pursue these careers and anything else that came up along the way.
What are some benefits of studying biochemistry at a liberal arts college?
At a liberal arts college, it is important that the faculty is very invested in their individual research. However, it is even more important that they are invested in the success of each individual student. I think CSB/SJU epitomizes that idea. Ever chemistry professor knows me by name and could probably tell you a lot about me and what I am doing. After I graduated, they have been extremely helpful in helping me pursuing career ideas, offering advise about teaching chemistry, and securing resources for the school I taught at in Mississippi. In addition, the world does not work in nice neat sectors where the business people talk to the business people and math people talk to math people. Instead, it revolves on the intersections of the various fields. Studying chemistry/biochemstry at a liberal arts college allows you to have experiences such as the learning about the collaborations between computer science and chemistry to truly understand quantum mechanics or studying how math relates to genetics when taking the bioinformatics class. These are invaluable opportunities as the world becomes a more complex system.
What advice do you have for students considering a major or minor in chemistry or biochemistry?
DO IT! It is not easy and they will push you harder then you have been pushed before but you will come out so much better for it. I am very confident that chemistry and biochemistry majors coming out of CSB/SJU are extremely well prepared because of the high standards that the faculty set upon you. The chemistry faculty has developed curriculum that is pedagogically sound; that focuses on analytically thinking and creating new ideas rather than rote memorization; andfocuses on the process rather than the outcome. Their methods of group work help you gain skills in teamwork and leadership that is extremely applicable to the real world. There are many opportunities to get involved in research using state of the art equipment and the department is always seeking out news ways to involve the students. A chemistry major will serve you well in many fields but more importantly, the process will teach you to develop effective study methods, technical writing, proper laboratory skills, teamwork, and how to think critically on your own.
What you have been doing since graduation?
I was pretty set on teaching by the time my senior year rolled around. However, having realized how blessed that I was to have spent the last four years at CSB/SJU, I decided to join the Benedictine Volunteer Corp right after college. First, I helped run a food pantry for a year in south Chicago. I then accepted the role of starting up a new volunteer site in the Bahamas where I worked to start various youth programs. Finally, I accepted my calling to teach and joined the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program which is a teaching program through the University of Notre Dame. I spent the next two years teaching chemistry and physical science in an under-resourced high school in Pascagoula Mississippi. This summer I received my Master's Degree in Education from Notre Dame. Now I am teaching science and religion at St. John the Evangelist middle school in Rochester, Minnesota.
What was the highlight of your time at CSB/SJU?
Anyone who stayed on campus during the summer of 2009 would agree that it was one of the best summers of their lives. I was accepted into the undergraduate research program were I worked to synthesize a scaffold for creating large enzyme like molecules under Dr. Brian Johnson. It was this summer that I formed some of the strongest bonds with my fellow science friends during our many hours of experimenting in the chemistry lab, playing countless games of volleyball, or enjoying a party at one of the local houses. This was the summer that I best embodied my dad's advice of "Work hard, have fun!"