Discovering the right fit
Class of 2014
Majors: Chemistry and math
Minors: Physics and humanities
Hometown: Lino Lakes, Minn.
Samantha Cassell came to Valparaiso University planning to become a high school chemistry teacher — to inspire and engage students, like the teacher who sparked her love for the subject. But then another chemistry teacher made her rethink those plans.
“Professor Kevin Jantzi was my organic chemistry professor my freshman year, and his class is why I’m choosing to go into organic chemistry,” she says. “At some schools, organic chemistry courses are about memorization. The way that Professor Jantzi teaches is more concept-based, so I became excited about the material and appreciate how beautiful it is.”
Samantha learned even more the following summer, when she joined Professor Jantzi in the lab to conduct research. Together, they focused on synthesizing useful molecules from carbohydrates instead of the petroleum that is traditionally used. Their research supports a future in which plastics and fuels will be created without using petroleum products.
“My research experience early on influenced me to attend graduate school,” she says. “That was a big decision for me. I realized I wanted to discover the chemistry of things, rather than teaching the basics.”
Samantha conducted research for two additional summers — one at Columbia University and another at Valparaiso University with Robert Clark, Ph.D. She says it was invigorating to see the practical applications of her work beyond a grade at the end of a semester.
After several semesters tutoring and leading supplemental instruction sessions at Valpo, she decided that being a professor was the right synthesis of her interests. Teaching at the university level would allow her to conduct research and to encourage a future generation of scientists.
Samantha’s next step was graduate school. She was accepted into a Ph.D. program in organic chemistry at Harvard.