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Marquis Scholar Becky Wiza, a senior biochemistry major from Reading, Pa., and a graduate of Reading High School, is finding herself especially confident during medical school interviews because she feels she an advantage over other undergraduates: her research experience.

“In every interview, they’ve asked me about my research, and I’ve been happy to answer their questions,” Wiza says. “I’ve had a chance to do research, and not a lot of undergraduates can say that.”

A former participant in Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students collaborate closely with faculty members on research projects while earning a stipend, Wiza is currently doing in an independent study under the guidance of Chip Nataro, visiting assistant professor of chemistry.

The project is based on organometallics. Organometallic compounds are substances in which the molecules contain at least one metal-to-carbon bond in which the carbon is part of an organic group. Organometallic complexes are complexes formed between organic groups and metal atoms.

“What I am doing right now is taking a standard compound called N3P3C16 and trying to replace the chlorines with iron,” says Wiza. “Once this synthesis is complete, then I will be using electrochemistry in order to learn more about the compounds’ physical properties.

“Other compounds based on N3P3C16 have been found to have favorable physical properties that may have biological implications,” she adds.

“My project stems from my interest in chemistry,” she says. “I started working with Dr. Nataro last year as an EXCEL student. I learned a lot about organometallic chemistry and I think it’s an interesting and progressive field. As a biochemist I am particularly excited about the possible catalytic and biological implications of the project.

“My favorite things about research are the problem-solving opportunities it affords and the confidence it builds,” she adds. Nataro says she has remained persistent in the face of the project’s challenges.

Wiza loves Lafayette, especially its “small community” aspect.

“There is a lot of interaction with professors,” she says. “I don’t know many other schools in the country that allow undergraduates to work with professors in such a close manner. Lafayette definitely fosters the ability to work in an academic environment. Every member of the senior class in the chemistry department has done or is doing some sort of research. That is an incredible feat as far as I am concerned. I think that students get a sense early on how important it is to get hands-on experience. Lafayette promotes that desire.”

Wiza hopes to continue lab work in molecular biology and genetics after earning her medical degree.

Outside the classroom and lab, Wiza has a big job as Lafayette’s resident adviser (R.A.) coordinator. The student residence hall staff, consisting of about 10 head residents and more than 50 R.A.s, promotes residence hall living as an educational experience. All student staff members are carefully selected and trained to help develop a sense of community within the halls and to help resolve academic, social, or personal problems that students may encounter.

She is R.A. in Soles Hall and a tour guide for the office of admissions.

Categorized in: Academic News