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Chemistry/Biochemistry Fun Day Brings Local High Schoolers to SUNY Plattsburgh

chemistry biochem fun day

About three dozen high school students from around the North Country attended a science fun day hosted by members of the SUNY Plattsburgh chemistry and biochemistry departments this spring.

Dr. Rajesh Sunasee, professors of chemistry, said the goal for the program from the department’s perspective is to plant the seeds of interest with these students before they begin applying to colleges.

“We want them well in advance to have information about chemistry and biochemistry and what our department can offer them,” Sunasee said.

Meet Current Students, Tour Facilities

“They get to meet with our undergraduate students. They get to see what kind of research is being done,” Sunasee said. “Sometimes this might click with them because some might have interests in this area already, so they know if they come here, they could pursue those kinds of dreams.”

The half-day’s activities started with an overview of the department via a presentation in Au Sable Hall; a chemistry lab activity in Hudson Hall Annex with Dr. Thomas Moffett, lecturer of chemistry and biochemistry; research presentations from current college students; a tour of the department’s facilities and a pizza lunch with a chemistry-related game.

During the presentation, Sunasee shared that the university is developing a cannabis certificate program.

“We know the cannabis market in New York is growing, so we need chemists to be trained in that,” Sunasee said.

‘Reaching Out to the Community’

Sunasee, who organized the event with Dr. Craig Hoag, associate professor of chemistry, said the trip strengthens connections between the university and local schools. Because of a previous high school visit to campus, Sunasee was invited to both Peru and Plattsburgh high schools to talk to classes about his work with nanotechnology.

chem fun day“It creates a relationship with us as university professors with the high school teachers. That’s important because we can share our knowledge — things they can implement in their school. I do a lot of diversity, equity and inclusion in chemistry teaching, so these are things I can share my knowledge in that they can bring to high school teaching,” Sunasee said.

“And it helps us to build the importance of chemistry in society or in the community in general.”

‘Learn What Path to Take’

For Moffett’s lab activity, students guessed the acidity of various kinds of fruit juice before working in pairs to test their hypotheses using titration instruments.

Wilson Siudzinski ’26, a chemistry major from Buffalo, was one of three college students to assist.

“This is also a great chance for kids to come learn about chemistry. It might help them learn what path they want to take earlier. I didn’t really figure out chemistry until my junior year when I switched (majors), so getting a head start is good,” Siudzinski said.

Ileini Espino, a chemistry major who graduated in May, delivered a presentation to the students about undergraduate research she did in partnership with Dr. Kelly Theisen, assistant professor of chemistry.

“I like talking to students and giving them a general overview of the research because when I was a student my freshman year, I never thought I’d be doing research,” the Bronx native said.

“I know for a lot of students, college seems really scary, and it’s important to show people there are opportunities, and it’s not scary to get involved,” Espino said. “You just need to apply yourself.”

‘Welcoming to New Students’

Joshua Seymour, a sophomore at Northeastern Clinton Central School, said out of the full slate of events, he most enjoyed the titration experiment in the lab.

“I’m a very hands-on learner, so it’s really fun doing stuff like that,” Seymour said, adding that he’ll likely apply to SUNY Plattsburgh.

It would be nice to go to college close to home since he is close with his family, Seymour said.

“I consider Plattsburgh a top school, especially for just staying and being local, so I don’t have to move as far,” he said. “They’re very welcoming to new students, and that’s a very important thing for new students. They can show up, meet their professors, have a good conversation with them and be successful for the future.”

Sonal Patel-Dame, a chemistry teacher at Plattsburgh High School, said the day’s events allowed the students to see what happens inside the campus buildings they are accustomed to seeing just down the street from their high school.

“By going to events like this, we can show them these are the professors, these are the students that are there, these are the labs, this is the equipment you can use and, most importantly, the research that current college students are doing, and they could also be a part of that as well,” Patel-Dame said.

chem fun day fourShe said the visit would also be helpful to her in her teaching as she aims to show students real-world applications of the theoretical concepts that she teaches.

“So being able to see that research, I can bring that back to my classroom and say, ‘Right down the street, there’s a student looking at the binding energy needed between two different proteins relating to COVID vaccines,’ and that helps validate what I teach and shows students the importance of it,” Patel-Dame said.

‘Appreciate When College Open Its Doors’

The networking between her and the university faculty is also helpful, Patel-Dame said.

“This also builds a relationship between me and the instructors at the college. Then I know if I have a question on how to do something, I can always email one of them since we’ve already built that relationship,” she said.

“I appreciate when the college opens its doors and volunteers to do this. This is an event that takes a lot of planning, a lot of energy, and we as educators are grateful for experiences like this.”

Hoag’s wife, Huong Hoag, brought students from Salmon River High School. Huong attended SUNY Plattsburgh to finish her degree in chemistry and get her master’s in teaching, Craig said.

Huong told her husband one of her students decided to attend SUNY Plattsburgh after attending a past Chemistry and Biochemistry Fun Day, although that student chose a different major, he said.

‘Enjoyed Student Research Presentations’

Noah Seller, a sophomore at Northeaster Clinton, said he enjoyed learning more about the chemistry field on the campus visit.

“I really liked it when they (current college students) talked about the different research they’re doing (like) all the research projects they’re doing with CBD and inflammatory response, which is interesting to me because of the genetic factor that plays into that.”

Seller said although he has his eyes set on another university, SUNY Plattsburgh is among his top choices.

He added that he’d recommend the chemistry and biochemistry department to other high schoolers based on what he’s seen.

“They’re high up there,” Seller said.

— Story, Photos by Assistant Director of Communications Felicia Krieg

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