catalyst for learning

Catalyst for learning

Chemistry students still benefit from the legacy of Mary Albaugh ’54

For Mary Albaugh '54, giving was elemental

Very little has stayed the same since Mary Albaugh ’54 studied chemistry nearly six decades ago. And one of the biggest differences came about thanks to Albaugh herself.

Then, students like Albaugh made do with Bunsen burners, slide rules, and graph paper. Today, students probe molecular structures with Fourier transform nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and analyze metabolites with capillary electrophoresis. “The instrumentation available to students and the capabilities of those pieces of equipment are things that could not even be dreamt of in the 1950s,” said Prof. Joseph Grzybowski.

Albaugh worked in Breidenbaugh Hall, a traditional, columned structure that opened in 1929 (and was named for legendary chemistry Prof. Edward S. Breidenbaugh). Today, students learn amid the airy architecture of the 86,000 square-foot Science Center, which opened in 2002.

Even the periodic table has changed — more than 20 elements have been added since the 1950s, including copernicium, hassium, and bohrium.

Chemistry Prof. Emeritus Alex Rowland ’53 knew Albaugh in their student days, and the two shared a similar academic experience. “The teaching was excellent at Gettysburg, but the instrumentation and up-to-date methods of research were far behind because of a lack of resources at the College. While in graduate school, so much of it was brand new to me,” said Rowland. “I started teaching at Gettysburg in 1958, and during my first year I had one or two students who worked with me on my steroids research. I’m not even sure how I paid them."

By contrast, plentiful research opportunities are a given for today’s students, in large measure because Albaugh made significant provisions in her estate to benefit the College, totaling more than $1.36 million. And she directed that half of her bequest would create an endowed fund to support the Department of Chemistry.

At the time of her death in 1998, the amount of the gift surprised many at the College. But to people who knew Albaugh well, like her college roommate Barbara Holley ’54, it didn’t come as a shock. It’s no surprise that someone who dedicated her life to science and teaching would act to enrich opportunities in those areas for future Gettysburgians.

Student and facultyThe Mary Catherine Albaugh (Class of 1954) Chemistry Fund for Student Research was established by the summer of 2000. It provides annual summer research stipends to students majoring in chemistry or bio-chemistry and molecular biology. The funding enhanced an existing summer research program that had been in place since 1986 but had relied mostly on external grant money and served only a handful of students. Today, an average of 12 to 14 students take part each year.

“The Albaugh Fund allows us to offer our students a research opportunity on campus every summer. Without it, research support during the summer would be sporadic, so it allows for continuity in our research program,” said Grzybowski, who is the G. Bowers and Louise Hook Mansdorfer Professor of Chemistry.“Students earn a stipend, live on campus, and fulfill a 400-level course credit in research which is required for majors,” said Prof. Michael Wedlock, who chairs the department. “Students can take the time to do summer research without suffering financially from it. And it helps them decide whether or not they want to pursue graduate school. More than half of students majoring in chemistry or biochemistry molecular biology attend graduate school.”

Students benefit by learning what it is like to do actual chemical research rather than a lab experiment where the end result is known. There is a sense of exploration and discovery — and sometimes frustration, explained Grzybowski. “If students are interested in graduate school, summer research is a great way to find out if they enjoy 40-plus hours of lab work every week.”

Each spring, faculty and students meet to discuss summer research opportunities. Students rank their preferences and are paired with faculty mentors.

For example, Hannah Loch ’12 did research with Prof. Donald Jameson involving alkyne derivatives of Troger’s base. “Research is essential because graduate schools are looking for students with research experience and industry wants people with experience in the lab. The experience at Gettysburg has been unique, because you are working one on one with the research advisor,” said Loch.

Minh An Nguyen ’12 conducted research with Grzybowski in synthesis and electrochemistry of clathrochelate complexes. “A scholar with the widest range of chemical knowledge is not always the most productive or successful researcher,” said Nguyen. “It’s how one artfully applies one’s knowledge to develop creative and original solutions for novel problems that determines one’s success as a chemist.”

Student at workMolly Rincavage ’13, who plans to attend pharmacy school after graduation, found the financial support of the Albaugh fund crucial. "I would not have been able to do this research without the Albaugh fund. My financial situation requires me to work in the summers, so if this research did not come with a stipend, I would not have been able to devote 40 hours a week to research.”

Luke Cuculis ’12, who worked with Prof. Shelli Frey to study the interactions of nanoparticle and detergent solutions with model cell membranes, is looking forward to the impact that his and others’ research will make in the field of chemistry. “It is fantastic that she selflessly gave the funds that have allowed students such as myself to develop the skills and gain the experience necessary to enter the world as able scientists who can begin contributing to the scientific community,” he said.

Albaugh couldn’t have known exactly what the study of chemistry would look like today, but her forward-looking generosity is helping 21st-century students prepare for the challenges of tomorrow. Through the endowed fund that bears her name, Mary Catherine Albaugh ‘54 will be an element in students’ success for generations to come. Her name is one that students like Nguyen won’t forget: “Her very generous and visionary gesture has a profound effect on countless generations of chemistry and biochemistry students in the Gettysburg College Department of Chemistry.”

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Thu, 26 Apr 2012

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