Inaugural program spurs “unforgettable summer of research”

By Wendy Plump
Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022

Participants in the VFRP program with Department Chair Greg Scholes
Visiting faculty in the two-month, summer Visiting Faculty Research Partnership (l to r): Qiao-Hong Chen, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at California State University, Fresno; Tolulope Salami, professor in the Department of Chemistry at Valdosta State University; Rashanique Quarels, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Rowan University; and Princeton Chemistry Department Chair Gregory Scholes, the William S. Tod Professor of Chemistry.
Photo by C. Todd Reichart

A simple idea arising from the commitment to create a diverse network of colleagues has become one of the Department of Chemistry’s most exciting recent initiatives. 

The inaugural Visiting Faculty Research Partnership (VFRP) wrapped last week with a rousing symposium and poster session, held partly in celebration of visiting professors and undergraduate students from Fresno State, Rowan, and Valdosta State universities. 

The symposium highlighted the camaraderie that extended in both directions – from the visitors and their trailing students to Princeton Chemistry, and back again.

VFRP is a new two-month summer program drawing faculty from moderate-to-small research institutions that serve historically underrepresented groups. This inaugural year provided research and stipend funding to three visiting faculty who each brought two undergraduates with them. 

Together, they paired up with Princeton faculty and embedded in labs, group meetings, and workshops to complete a short, summer research collaboration. 

“I am thrilled to see the positive impact Princeton Chemistry’s VFRP had for all participating faculty and students,” said Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Shawn Maxam. “The relationships and collaborations developed seem to be exceptional. We know that talent exists everywhere, and our pursuit of academic excellence requires a robust engagement with diverse groups of scientists and scholars. 

“My gratitude to the department for launching this program. I am excited by the future opportunities for science and collaboration catalyzed by VFRP.”

Visiting Faculty Research Partnership summer visitors
Dr. Quarels, center, Tracy Nti Amankwah (left) and Jonathan Santoro, who visited Princeton Chemistry this summer from Rowan University.
Photo by the Department of Chemistry

Visiting faculty included: Qiao-Hong Chen, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at California State University, Fresno; Rashanique Quarels, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Rowan University; and Tolulope Salami, professor in the Department of Chemistry at Valdosta State University.

VFRP is part of Department Chair Greg Scholes’ goal to open Princeton Chemistry up to non-traditional routes of collaboration. 

“What a great response we got for this program. It says a lot that we could make three top quality appointments that spanned three different labs in our department,” said Scholes, the William S. Tod Professor of Chemistry. “We imagine that the experience will enhance the trailing student’s applications for graduate school or employment, and that we have seeded productive, long-term connections with them.”

Chen and her two students partnered with the Sorensen Lab to work on natural product synthesis. After two months, Chen declared the program “… an exciting, unforgettable summer of research. It’s been a great chance for me, for my two students who came with me, and my entire group at Fresno State. We were all so happy to do this.”

A first-generation college student herself, Chen chose two undergraduates to accompany her whom she felt would most benefit from the opportunity: Jasmine Hang, and first-generation college student Khamyl Cooksey, both of whom traveled to the East Coast for the first time. 

“Coming here pushed me a little bit more towards doing a Ph.D.,” said Hang. “I’m actually a biology major, so chemistry wasn’t ever anything I was going to touch other than the classes I need to take. But I really enjoyed the hands-on part of the lab. So now, I’m thinking maybe I can do research on campus.

“I have loved every moment of it,” she added. “Being able to work here and be a part of the whole environment where everyone is so research-driven, it just makes it so much more impactful.”

Said Cooksey, “The Sorensen Lab was very welcoming. We got to talk to the postdocs and graduate students and hear a lot about the paths they’ve taken, so I’ve been deciding which one I want to do. It’s definitely given me the opportunity to explore my options.”

VFRP participants
Tolulope Salami (center) with his trailing undergraduates at the Symposium: Jayden Thomas (left) and Jodeci Mitchell (right). 
Photo by C. Todd Reichart

Jodeci Mitchell, who visited from Valdosta, embedded with the Bocarsly Lab. “This program has given me access to more diverse experimentation and different equipment. Using that knowledge is definitely going to be useful to my career, no matter what I decide to do,” she said. “The hands-on activity in the lab is definitely beneficial in that aspect. Just getting used to the lab environment in general has been wonderful.”

Salami said he feels it’s important to continue learning throughout one’s professional career, and found the opportunity to do that through the Bocarsly Lab. 

“Also with the students, they’ve been encouraged that they can do this,” he said. “For them, it was that feeling of trepidation when they were coming to Princeton. But when they got here it was like, hmmm, I actually can do this. We’re all just chemists. I think it has done a lot to build their confidence.”

Quarels added that the Knowles Lab had a piece of equipment, a cryocooler—a refrigerator designed to reach cryogenic temperatures—that was integral to her research, and that Rowan did not have access to on campus. “Just being able to utilize some of the resources here at Princeton was a big ‘check’ for me.”

She added that one of her trailing students, Jonathan Santoro, was up until this point a chemical engineering major at Rowan. Following this summer’s fellowship, he plans to change his major to chemistry full time and continue on the path to graduate school.