As a double major in two demanding fields, chemistry and English, Stephanie Petry ’18 doesn’t back down from a challenge. Her blend of interests is intended to help her reach her goal is to teach chemistry at the college level. And to inspire others.
During the summer of 2017 she worked at Colorado State University to investigate transition metal complexes and their potential to be used in the treatment of various cancer types.
“I want to be a professor in some field of chemistry, so this helps me determine if inorganic chemistry is the path I want to pursue,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to teach, and being an English major will allow me to become a better educator.”
In high school, chemistry didn’t always come easily to her.
“It was a struggle, but it was a struggle I enjoyed and one that made me want to succeed and do better,” she says.
“Until you learn chemistry, you don’t realize how much is going on around you that is invisible to the eye.”
Petry is also motivated to study chemistry because of the lack of women and minorities in the field.
“I understand that women and minorities have been excluded from the opportunity to study science,” she says. She wants her example to inspire others. “I want to show them that if I can do it, they can do it too. Don’t set your standards too low. It’s good to see others who are like you doing the things you want to do. My first chemistry teacher was a very intelligent woman who led me to believe that I could succeed too.”
An English major had never been on her radar until she enrolled in her first English course at Earlham.
“I fell in love with the English major because it opened up whole other areas of experiences that I’d never been exposed to,” she says. “I’d been missing out on the experiences people had in their lives that show real issues. Literature allows us to learn about other perspectives from people who have not been allowed to speak before.”
She says studying chemistry and English, and playing the French horn gives her a good balance.
“I think about things very differently in each discipline, but English and chemistry are both very analytical,” she says. “You learn to pay attention to the small details that at first you might have missed. These small details often reveal a lot of meaning.”
She has been a teaching assistant for several chemistry courses, including serving as one of four student-facilitators of a recitation course, which is intended to assist students who struggle in chemistry.
“The teaching aspects have been reaffirming,” she says. “We reviewed what was presented in class, and we practiced.”
The recitation course is supposed to meet once per week for two hours, but it often lasted longer because students requested more assistance.
“There are a lot of learning styles,” Petry says. “What may be obvious to me isn’t always obvious to someone else. Helping students make the connections really challenged me to know chemistry. I also realized that I enjoyed working through problems with students and struggling with them.”
On campus she has completed two research projects: one analyzing the amount of organic carbon in Icelandic soil and the other creating experiments for the physical chemistry course at Earlham which utilize a vapor pressure osmometry, which measures the osmolality of solvent systems.