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Environmental Factor

December 2011

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

American Chemical Society honors newsletter intern

By Eddy Ball
December 2011

Melissa Kerr, NCCU Student

Reflecting on her last two years of study, Kerr said, “I am more excited about my prospects now than I have ever been. I can't wait to get started.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Environmental Factor intern and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) student Melissa Kerr is the winner of the 2011 Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry. The award is presented jointly, each year, by the American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry (ACS-DAC) and the journal Analytical Chemistry to one outstanding student at each eligible institution.

In Kerr's notification letter, ACS-DAC Undergraduate Award Committee Chairman Douglas Beussman congratulated her and wrote, “This award recognizes your outstanding efforts in the area of analytical chemistry.” Currently a junior at NCCU, Kerr has maintained a 3.9 grade point average during her first two years of chemistry coursework.

From liberal arts to analytical chemistry

That Kerr is doing so well in analytical chemistry is not surprising - the fact that she is studying chemistry as a non-traditional student is. Kerr holds two bachelor degrees, one in Japanese studies from the University of Iowa and one in psychology from Buena Vista University.

After working with people with mental illness and developmental disabilities for three years, Kerr and her husband moved from Iowa to Chapel Hill, N.C. Once she settled into her new community and her new job here with a day services program for people with developmental disabilities, Kerr says her interest in science gradually drew her back to the classroom, where she is a decade or more older than her traditional counterparts.

Although she maintains a heavy load of courses and works full time, Kerr decided she also wanted to get writing experience and took on an internship with the NIEHS monthly newsletter in the fall of 2010. She followed a lead from her mentor, NCCU organic chemistry professor John Myers, Ph.D. Over the past year, Kerr has contributed an article or two each month to the Environmental Factor.

Looking toward careers

One of the benefits of writing for the newsletter, Kerr said, is exposure to NIEHS students' and fellows' career development programs. “I've written stories about the [NIH Summer Internship Program], and I wrote one about the Quintiles Open House last summer,” she said. “I've also heard many eye-opening stories about how people ended up where they did in scientific careers.”

Kerr's own career direction is still uncertain, but she's getting a scientific education, learning about science supported by NIEHS, and building a portfolio of writing samples. “I'm not sure, yet, where I'll end up,” she observes, “but I think it's going to be fun getting there.”

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