Scientifically Speaking

Extensive undergraduate research opportunities helped Ian Pendleton excel at EMU

by Linda Hass, Published June 13, 2012

Ian Pendleton chose Eastern Michigan University because of its reputation for providing affordable, quality education.  Eastern lived up to those expectations-and delivered a lot more, opening exciting doors of opportunity for the Milan High School salutatorian.

"My original goal was to be a medical doctor," said Pendleton, 21, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in professional biochemistry this April. "Then I had opportunities to work side-by-side with professors on challenging research projects. I loved it so much, I altered my career goal. I still want to heal people, but I decided to approach it from the research angle," added Pendleton, who helped develop a more efficient way of producing some drugs, with guidance from faculty mentors.

As Pendleton prepares for the next big transition-pursuing a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Michigan this fall-he looks back with fulfillment on an educational journey marked by rewarding milestones.

One of those milestones involved participating in Eastern's Undergraduate Symposium, a one-day showcase of outstanding undergraduate work presented before students and faculty every spring. Pendleton, a presenter at each of the last four symposiums, served as the emcee this March.

"The Symposium is an incredible opportunity to put your work on the line and be tested by questions and critiques. I was really pumped," he said, adding that the experience helped to fine-tune his research.

Dennis Beagan, chair of EMU's Undergraduate Symposium planning committee, said Pendleton was chosen as emcee because of his outstanding accomplishments.  "He's a very bright and outgoing young man; a true success story and positive reflection on Eastern's commitment to undergraduate research," said Beagan.

Explaining the dynamics of Pendleton's research is about as easy as explaining Einstein's theory of relativity. Or, as Beagan says, "it's complicated." Basically, the research involved discovering more efficient ways to make certain drugs.  " I didn't make the drug itself; I developed a more time-saving and energy conserving way to make it," Pendleton said.

His mentor, Professor Harriet Lindsay, worked with Pendleton for nearly four years to develop this new version of a chemical reaction, thanks to a Symposium Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) sponsorship from DTE Energy Foundation, a charitable arm of DTE Energy.

"What Ian did was akin to inventing a new tool that other scientists could apply in making drugs such as antibiotics and anti-tumor drugs, to name a few possibilities," Lindsay said. Few students would have persevered through the rigorous process, which involved the better part of a year just to solve one piece of the puzzle, she added.

"I'm grateful for Professor Lindsay, who was a patient, thorough mentor; and for the fellowship that Eastern offered. Without the initial spark that came from this fellowship, I would have been just another student-well educated in the classroom but not well rounded in the lab. It made a huge impact on my life and most likely, my career," said Pendleton.

Another milestone occurred when Pendleton was chosen from 850 undergraduate applicants nation-wide to present his research findings at the 2012 "Posters on the Hill" on April 24, a prestigious event sponsored by the Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR), in Washington, D.C.  The annual event is designed to help lawmakers understand the importance of undergraduate research programs

Looking back over the last four years, Pendleton said these and other experiences  prepared him for graduate school and a career. "A focused, final year in research and academics was an amazing way to finish my undergraduate career," he said. "I'm glad I chose Eastern." 

Geoff Larcom


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