ASU chemistry student works to positively impact lives around her


January 17, 2018

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series of profiles showcasing students in the School of Molecular Sciences.

McKenna Renfro is a senior majoring in chemistry. She is passionate about chemistry, health and social issues, and is heavily involved on campus as part of ASU’s Gospel Choir, a general member of the Zaria Black and African Coalition, a community assistant, and more. SMS Student McKenna Renfro School of Molecular Sciences chemistry student McKenna Renfro will receive her bachelor's degree in May 2018. Download Full Image

This fall, Renfro will be attending the UCLA School of Dentistry, where she will continue her academic journey to become a Doctor of Dental Surgery.

Question: When did you first realize that you wanted to study the field you are majoring in?

Answer: I entered my first college-level chemistry class not knowing what I was getting myself into, and my first semester was definitely an incredible challenge. However, I have learned to love the curious world behind the elements that constitute our universe. After my first semester, I gained a new appreciation and respect for chemistry. I found myself drawn to the sense of accomplishment that came with completing each new chemistry course.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My sister completed her political science degree at ASU, which allowed me to gain a strong sense of Sun Devil spirit and pride prior to even enrolling in the university. Her undergraduate experience allowed me to become familiar with the multitude of resources and opportunities available to students at ASU. I knew that ASU would give me a competitive advantage when it came to applying to professional schools, which has been my career goal since freshman year.

Q: What research opportunities have you had as a student here, and can you describe your research experience?

A: One of the great things about ASU is the ability to explore numerous opportunities and areas of interest throughout your college experience. In addition to my love for science, I have a strong, undying passion for the advocacy for minorities and underserved populations. My experience as a research assistant in the Neuberg-Kenrick Evolutionary Social Cognition Lab allowed me to explore my interest in determining the psychological processes behind very relevant and pressing social issues that concern these groups, such as stereotyping/prejudices, judgment, decision-making, morality and legal issues. Throughout the spring of 2016, I completed research and worked on the inception and development of a study topic and design, data collection and interpretation. I assisted Dr. Keelah Williams and Dr. Steven Neuberg with their investigation of how an individual’s perception of threats and opportunities in the environment might affect stereotypes, judgment, and even legal sentencing.

Q: What are some extracurricular activities that you enjoy at ASU?

A: During my junior and senior years of undergraduate study, I have become heavily involved in the university’s gospel choir. In addition, my involvement as a general member for the Zaria Black and African Coalition provides an intimate setting for young students of color to conduct conversations that promote womanhood, relationships, development and leadership. I have also been involved in ASU’s Pre-Dental Society for the past three years. In terms of my scientific interests, I worked as an assistant teaching assistant and lab assistant in microbiology at Arizona State, where I provided daily instruction and lecture to scheduled laboratory sessions, prepared culture media, broth, and reagents, sterilized biohazard materials, and supervised students in ASU’s "MIC206: Biology of Microorganisms" laboratory.

Q: What’s something you have learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My role as a community assistant (with ASU Housing) has exposed me to many cultures different from my own. For the past two school years, I have worked diligently to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment where all individuals can be celebrated. I consistently organize programs for first-time freshmen students that embed diversity and inclusion at ASU. In addition, my involvement in a University Service Learning course allowed me to immerse myself in over 100 hours of community service at the Boys and Girls Club of the East Valley. I first-handedly witnessed the need to minimize the achievement gap for minorities and other underserved, socioeconomic communities. With my background in chemistry, biological sciences, and research in psychology, I was able to unite both my passions for science and health with my everlasting endeavor to positively impact people’s lives.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to students interested in coming to ASU to study chemistry or biochemistry?

Your biggest limitations are the barriers you place on yourself. I entered ASU asking myself, “How am I going to graduate with a degree in chemistry from ASU?” I later realized that the biggest obstacle that I faced throughout my undergraduate experience was not from any of my classes, but rather from the doubt that I had placed within myself. Do not give up on yourself or doubt your own potential! 

intern, School of Molecular Sciences

Therald Moeller Scholarship recipient pursues career as science educator


January 17, 2018

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series showcasing students in the School of Molecular Sciences.

Shannon Sipes is a senior majoring in chemistry. She is pursuing a career as a science educator and is currently earning her secondary education certificate in chemistry through a program offered by Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College while simultaneously working on her bachelor’s degree in chemistry. SMS Student Shannon Sipes Shannon Sipes, School of Molecular Sciences senior, will earn her bachelor's in chemistry in May 2018. Download Full Image

Arizona State University and the School of Molecular Sciences strive to provide students with a variety of opportunities for financial support. Sipes is a recipient of the Therald Moeller Scholarship, a scholarship established in the 1980's in honor of Emeritus Professor Therald Moeller to support a student in the School of Molecular Sciences with interest in a career in chemistry.

Not only that, but Sipes is also a participant in the Maricopa to ASU Pathways Program (MAPP) through GCC. MAPP helps students who attend any Maricopa Community College plan and complete coursework that can then allow them to transfer to ASU and finish their bachelor’s degree here. MAPP guarantees admission to ASU degree programs once course requirements are met and is a very cost-effective path to earning a bachelor’s degree at a university for local students.

Question: When did you first realize that you wanted to study the field you are majoring in?

Answer: I realized that I wanted to study chemistry and chemistry education when I was in my first general chemistry class. The professor that I had the pleasure of learning from, Professor George Gregg, was so incredibly amazing at sharing his love and passion for his field as well as being able to relate chemistry to everyday life and speak to its value on a medicinal/health value. Because of this, he inspired me to pursue a degree in chemistry.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to earn my degree at ASU because of its chemistry program and its partnership with Glendale Community College as well as the fact that all of my family members are ASU Sun Devils. I followed the Maricopa to ASU Pathways Program (MAPP) during my time at GCC prior to transferring to ASU for my junior and senior year, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants to earn a bachelor’s degree at a university following their community college experience. ASU's partnership with Glendale Community College through MAPP made my transition to ASU incredibly smooth, as I had already completed almost all of my lower division classes while at GCC.

Q: What research opportunities have you had as a student here, and can you describe your research experience?

A: Through Barrett’s thesis project, I have had the opportunity to research and explore facets of chemistry and science education within the refugee population of Arizona. I worked with volunteers for the IRC (International Rescue Committee) as well as a college chemistry professor and multiple education professors to create science lesson plans tailored to English Language Learners. The experience was extremely rewarding and valuable to me and my future as a science educator.

Q: What’s something you have learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: While researching science teaching methods for English Language Learners, I was surprised by how important tangible and visual examples were when it comes to enhanced understanding of challenging and new topics. Learning this has influenced me to incorporate this method when I become a science or chemistry teacher.

Q: What are your career goals after graduation?

A: Following graduation, I hope to begin my career by focusing on science and chemistry education as a teacher in Arizona. I want to implement teaching strategies that I’ve learned and observed in my chemistry classes, my education classes, and during my research with AZ refugee students. I am incredibly excited to begin teaching chemistry and other science topics because I want to inspire others to pursue higher education within science fields because many of my chemistry professors inspired me to do the same. I feel as though a knowledge of chemistry (and all other sciences) is extremely crucial to one’s understanding of their surrounding world and is also a key component in medical fields (such as medicinal product development), which I believe to be incredibly important.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to students interested in coming to ASU to study chemistry or biochemistry?

A: My advice would be to introduce yourself to your professors and express to them your personal goals. Your professors will often push you to meet those goals and will be a significant part of your college support system.

intern, School of Molecular Sciences