After just one summer of undergraduate research with Associate Professor Grace Muna, IU South Bend chemistry student Christopher Warkentin was recognized with an honorable mention by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program—the most highly esteemed undergraduate scholarship given in the sciences. Although Warkentin was not awarded the prestigious scholarship, the committee acknowledged his commendable research achievements.
“Chris received this distinction very early in his science career,” explained Biochemistry Chair and Professor Gretchen Anderson. “After only a few months of undergraduate research in Dr. Grace Muna’s lab, he achieved an honor no other student at IU South Bend has ever attained.”
Still focused on winning the Goldwater Scholarship, he plans to apply again this year. Only 260 applicants out of 1,200 nominees throughout the country are awarded the scholarship. Goldwater Scholarship recipients receive full tuition, fees and textbooks, and room and board. “It’s a sweet deal,” commented Anderson. “With another year of research with Dr. Muna, Chris’s application this year will be even stronger.”
A graduate of Elkhart Central High School, Warkentin has been working with Muna on testing a more stable and efficient catalyst to enhance the detection of steroid hormones in local waterways such as the St. Joseph River.
The steroid hormones have been shown to impact fish populations. “My research with Dr. Muna has given me confidence that I can do that kind of work,” said Warkentin. “I’ve become more independent in the laboratory and learned more about what it means to do scientific research.”
Faculty working with undergraduate students in the research lab open a whole new dimension of scientific learning for students. “We cooperate and work together to find the answers,” said Muna. “I enjoy seeing undergraduate students develop confidence and get excited when they realize they can find solutions too.”
Undergraduate research not only fosters confidence and interest in a research career, it also helps students target the area of interest they wish to pursue in graduate school. “It helps students narrow their research passion,” said Muna, “and identify graduate schools that support their particular area of interest.” Warkentin gives credit to the IU South Bend chemistry faculty. “They have a genuine desire to help students achieve their goals,” he explained. “My research with Muna has helped me understand and develop the skills graduate research requires,” said Warkentin.
Sustainability and ecological conservation are causes close to Warkentin’s heart. Before enrolling at IU South Bend, he was part of group that started Rise Up Farms in Elkhart, a local farm providing the community with sustainable produce.
His work in Muna’s lab has fostered a career goal to conduct research in sustainable energy. “The older I get the more passionate I feel about the environment,” said Warkentin. “With a graduate degree and research experience, I hope someday my research efforts will make a significant contribution to renewable energy.”