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- by  Abby Weingarten

Anna Wright has been busy in the chemistry lab at New College this fall, using microwave spectroscopy to determine the rotational constants of small gas-phase organic molecules (with the possibility of identification in the interstellar medium).

In other words, Wright—and her intellectually intensive research—are going places. And the science world is taking notice.

The physical chemistry thesis student, who is originally from Nokomis/Venice and plans to graduate in May, recently received a $10,000 scholarship from the Lariat Future Innovators Foundation’s STEM Scholar Program—an award that is directed toward low-income students from small towns in the Southeastern United States who are pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors. Wright was one of only three scholarship recipients.

“This scholarship covers all unmet need for my senior year at New College, which means I can graduate with less debt, and I can afford to fully focus on my thesis research instead of spending time in multiple, part-time, on-campus jobs,” Wright said. “The financial support will allow me to get the most out of my final year, as well as provide the financial support to apply to graduate schools and take qualifying exams like the GRE.”

In addition to earning the competitive award, Wright was also just selected to be one of 50 participants nationwide for the second year of the American Chemical Society’s Lasting Encounters Between Aspiring and Distinguished Scientists (ACS LEADS) Conference in Washington, D.C. This is an all-expenses-paid, three-day conference (to be held this summer) that is focused on investing in and inspiring the next generation of chemists.

To secure both the scholarship and the conference opportunity, Wright worked closely with New College faculty and staff.

She took a course last spring called “Chemical Research, Communication and Careers,” co-taught by Professor of Physical Chemistry Steven Shipman, Ph.D. (Wright’s adviser and thesis sponsor) and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Rebecca Black, Ph.D. In that class, Wright attended career panels, completed fellowship application drafts, and learned how to write resumes and cover letters. Duane Smith, Ph.D., the assistant director of prestigious fellowships and scholarships for New College’s Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity, also helped Wright fill out her scholarship applications.

“I’m very proud of Anna for being accepted to the ACS LEADS Conference. The ACS is one of the world’s largest scientific societies and the home organization for most chemists, so she’ll have the opportunity to network with professionals in a variety of chemical enterprises, Nobel laureates, and other ‘high-potential early career professionals and students’ just like her,” Black said. “This conference will be a time for Anna to self-reflect on her own career aspirations, learn about a number of chemical careers, and define the strengths and skillsets she’ll be able to apply in her future career.”

Shipman is championing Wright’s recent accolades, too.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Anna in classes, tutorials, an Independent Study Project (ISP) and as her senior thesis sponsor,” Shipman said. “She has always done creative and interesting work, and it’s wonderful that her hard work over the years is getting external recognition.”

Wright believes she would not have had the opportunity to do so much “creative and interesting work” had she attended a different college.

“After touring New College’s campus, I declined admission elsewhere. I knew where I wanted to be,” Wright said. “I originally wanted to pursue linguistics or anthropology, but I accidentally fell in love with chemistry. New College’s non-competitive contract system allows for pure intellectual exploration, and it was the dealbreaker in my decision to attend.”

Once she arrived, she experienced the invaluable mentorship of Black and Shipman.

“Dr. Black and Dr. Shipman have encouraged me to reach out to opportunities I did not even consider a possibility, and I’m very grateful for their academic and professional support,” Wright said. “I’m not quite sure what exactly I want to do within the chemistry or scientific community, but I’m hoping that the mentorship and connections made through the ACS LEADS Conference help to inspire and point my interests in a more singular direction.”

Whatever may come next, Wright is ready.

“I still have a lot to learn, but New College has taught me how to ask questions, connect to resources and research anything I could ever want to know,” Wright said. “I’m leaving New College with a set of skills for doing science that I can take with me wherever I go next, be it graduate school or the workforce.”

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.