Anton Dubrovskiy says he has been fascinated by chemistry since middle school. He attended a chemistry high school and college in his hometown of Moscow before coming to the U.S. in 2007 for graduate studies. At Iowa State University, he discovered a strong passion for teaching.
He joined the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 2014 as it expanded from an upper-level institution to a comprehensive four-year university, and today runs the chemistry program of 10 faculty members, including two with joint appointments in biology and environmental science. Dr. Dubrovskiy’s goal: to make a difference and inspire in students a love of chemistry. He has found exposing students to research early is vital.
“I want to inspire students for science. I want them to feel valued and get them interested and started in research as early as possible, as it takes time to learn the basics and get them off the ground. Today’s students are our future,” Dr. Dubrovskiy said.
UHCL chemistry majors are required to do research and can select their research project from multiple areas of chemistry: organic, inorganic, computational, environmental, analytical and biochemistry.
The undergraduate research projects are designed so they can be completed within a semester or two. For example, Dr. Dubrovskiy’s research focuses on designing organic methodologies to convert readily available materials, such as natural amino acids or simple aromatic amides, into more complex, medically relevant N-containing heterocycles, using at most a couple of chemical steps.
“We want the students to have a sense of ownership over their research projects,” Dr. Dubrovskiy explained. “That really excites them about continuing a career in science. It is sad that many of our students come with very limited chemistry background from high school. As such, the more opportunities we can provide for them to do research earlier at UHCL, the better.”
UHCL boasts about 500 biology and 60 chemistry undergraduates and 15 chemistry graduate students. Under Dr. Dubrovskiy’s leadership, the chemistry program is working to broaden research engagement opportunities for the students, and Welch funding is an important component. However, faculty teaching loads can pose a challenge for those interested in mentoring more research students.
He explained that a very significant portion of Welch funding now goes to supporting students, unlike in the past when it was primarily used for supplies and equipment. The department holds an awards ceremony at the close of each semester to celebrate students’ research achievements, with the best performing awarded tuition scholarships.
Dr. Dubrovskiy said he has gleaned ideas on prioritizing student scholarships from other Welch-supported programs at the annual Welch research conference.
“Despite all the challenges of the pandemic, we were able to keep some research going. Tough times, but it is getting better! I am so pleased that a number of our very recent graduates are now pursuing Ph.D.’s in the chemistry field or found jobs in the chemical industry,” he added. “It is gratifying that we are making a difference.”