Phillip Pelphrey

Departmental Grant, Texas Weslayan Univ.

Texas Wesleyan University serves many first-generation minority students, with 25 to 30 students majoring in chemistry or biochemistry in a typical year.

The Welch departmental grant helps fund coursework on science ethics, recordkeeping, basic laboratory skills, and advanced experimental techniques. Students also have the opportunity to participate in hands-on research opportunities, including an eight-week intensive summer research program that often is the participants’ introduction to conducting scientific research.

“We treat our students as if they are going to graduate school,” explains Phillip Pelphrey, associate professor of chemistry and department chair. “The research program starts with a literature search. We ask them to identify gaps and train them on research techniques. Most of them don’t have previous experience with in-depth problem-solving so this opportunity is truly eye-opening. It is our faculty’s job to serve as mentors guiding them through it.”

The goal is for each student to complete a project in the summer session, but they also can continue their research into the fall and spring semesters, generally for 10 hours a week for 15 weeks. Scholarships are offered for junior and seniors.

Three Wesleyan faculty participate, typically mentoring six students in the summer and four during each semester. The scope of the student projects spans areas of biochemistry, bioanalytical, organic, and medicinal chemistry. The faculty works to prepare students for presenting their research at a professional meeting.

“Conferences provide excellent practice in communicating their research effectively and allow them to network with peers and professionals in the field. This can lead to opportunities for life after graduation as they pursue careers or acceptance into graduate school,” Dr. Pelphrey said.

“We’ve been fortunate to have the Welch departmental grant for more than 40 years and it has made such a difference to our students,” he said. “I’ve been here 15 years and personally trained 60 to 70 undergraduates, some who have gone into graduate school, teaching, or industry. For me, it is so rewarding to take a student who has never experienced scientific research and see them grow in confidence and their understanding of chemistry to the point they are able to stand in front of an audience talking about their research, initially an unimaginable event for many of them.”

He proudly points to one of his students, who is now in her third year at New York University and just published her first paper.

“Students tell us that this experience really sets them apart in graduate schools and prepares them to succeed. We couldn’t do this without Welch support,” Dr. Pelphrey added.