A Shared Mission: Valpo Faculty and Alumni Invest in Student Success
With a love for chemistry, the first time Brian Weaver ’17 stepped foot on campus was to attend a scholarship day hosted by the chemistry department. Brian met professors and saw a brief glimpse into the uniqueness of the Valpo experience.
Now, that day is a distant memory as Brian is fully embedded in the chemistry department, practically living in Neils Science Center, he says. Walking down the halls of Neils, Brian regularly interacts with faculty who customarily welcome students into their office no matter the hour. “I am surrounded by professors guiding, mentoring, motivating, and investing in me and my future,” Brian says. “The relationships I’ve developed with my professors have made my Valpo experience extremely rewarding and unlike anything I could’ve experienced elsewhere.”
As a biochemistry major, Brian is passionate about obtaining an education at Valpo that will prepare him to eventually contribute to the scientific community. With that goal in mind, Brian started vying for research positions his freshman year. He acquired a research position with Robert Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry and MSEED program director, the summer following his sophomore year and has been immersed in that research ever since.
“At Valpo, we place great significance on ensuring our students are afforded ample opportunity to pursue meaningful research,” Professor Clark says. “Over the past couple of years, Brian has been a key contributor to my bio-inorganic research team, actively planning and engaging in research and proving himself to be technically superior.”
The research concerns investigating the nature of how CooA, a bacterial carbon monoxide sensing heme protein, binds to DNA. Brian’s active role in this research is critical for entry into graduate school and in his future career.
“Professor Clark, like so many of the Valpo professors, is definitely invested in his students. He is a huge motivator for me. He has a big heart and it shows,” Brian says. “Seeing the human side of my professors combined with the relationships I’ve developed have made my time at Valpo so valuable.”
Throughout each semester, the chemistry department hosts a speaker at the forefront of science as part of its colloquium series. Brian has attended since his freshman year, listening to inspiring, informative speakers and gaining broad exposure into the field. Recently, Valpo alumnus John Golbeck ’71, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and chemistry at Pennsylvania State University, returned to campus as the colloquium’s guest speaker.
In response to Brian’s enthusiasm to secure a summer research position in John’s lab, Thomas Goyne, associate professor of chemistry, personally inquired with John.
“It’s been heartwarming and extremely gratifying to have Valpo professors remain in contact and reach out to me after all these years,” John says. “I have a special place in my heart for Valparaiso students, so I always take them when they express interest.”
For more than 20 years, John has opened his laboratory to numerous Valpo students, exposing these individuals to a university research lab and the opportunity to collaborate with graduate students as well as post-doctoral scientists. Working in this environment, the students learn the answer to important questions — How does one select a research problem? How does one deal with failure as most of research is failure? When you do have a success, how do you handle it and plan the next step? How do you communicate with your fellow lab workers? How do you disseminate scientific information?
John has stepped forward as a Valpo alumnus, serving as a professional mentor for past and current Valpo students. His primary concern is offering these students a valuable research experience, which is necessary if they wish to pursue research at the graduate level or in their future careers.
Perhaps most importantly, the opportunities John provides enable students to discern their true calling. “If you are immersed in this environment, you really have to love it,” John says. “Deciding what you want to do in your life, should be made on the basis of real life. They see it, they do it, then they know.”
“I better understand the perseverance and focus needed to perform research and obtain positive results,” Brian says. “It is gratifying to see a Valpo alumnus succeeding in my prospective field. Professor Golbeck further proves that Valpo alumni consistently achieve great things and gives me hope that I can do the same in my profession as a biochemist.”
At Valpo, Brian has had numerous opportunities to become actively involved in meaningful research, which continues into his senior year as he has been selected to complete a University honors project with Professor Clark. He is a dedicated student, receiving the Outstanding Organic Student Award his freshman year, the Outstanding Biochemistry Student Award his sophomore year, both the Outstanding Analytical Chemistry and Physical Chemistry Student Awards his junior year, and gaining admittance into Phi Lambda Upsilon, the chemistry honor society. Recognizing his aptitude for organic chemistry, Brian leads weekly help sessions in that discipline. Since his freshman year, Brian has been active in the Chemistry Club, currently serving as president and member of the executive board for three years. Brian’s academic excellence combined with faculty support and alumni mentorship have uniquely prepared him for his future scientific career.