Legendary Monmouth College professor's legacy lives on through students' trip to American Chemical Society meeting

Monmouth, Ill. (04/02/2024) — Although beloved Monmouth College chemistry professor Richard "Doc" Kieft" died in 2009, his presence is still felt strongly in his department and on campus.

When retiring chemistry professor Brad Sturgeon presented his final faculty colloquium March 22, he did so with a framed photo of Kieft occupying one of the seats in Pattee Auditorium. A few days later, incoming Monmouth president Patricia Draves - a former colleague of Kieft in the College's chemistry department - cited him as one of her leading mentors in higher education.

Kieft's presence was also felt by the 14-member Monmouth contingent that traveled to the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society, which was held March 17-21 in New Orleans.

"The department is extremely thankful to Doc Kieft for his generosity," said chemistry professor Audra Goach, who accompanied Monmouth's 11 students, along with faculty colleague Laura Moore and lab manager Steve Distin. "We could not do the research we do, let alone share it with others, without the endowment Doc left us. His life lives on every day on the third floor of the Center for Science and Business and in the posters and talks our students present."

From Kieft's endowment, $16,000 is allocated annually for travel. The students agreed it's a worthwhile investment.

"This was such an amazing opportunity, not only to present my research, but to also explore brand new science and meet brilliant minds on the cusp of new discoveries," said Sophia Swift '24, who presented a poster pertaining to Alzheimer's disease with Alejandro Arteaga '24. "I felt like a little kid in a candy shop, completely in awe of the amazing work being done in the field I'm so passionate about."

Another of the students on the trip was Cassandra Nolasco '26, whose research adviser is Goach. Her poster and talk was connected to the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

"Cassandra's talk was in a session with professors," said Goach. "Afterwards, one of them told her that she should apply to graduate school at their institution when she graduates."

Nolasco said, "I am beyond grateful that I was given the opportunity to attend the ACS conference, as I was able to connect with a network of researchers and scientists. Being able to give a talk at the conference truly boosted my confidence and speaking skills, and it was really cool to be able to do that in front of people with far more experience than me."

Goach gave a talk titled "Investigation of the Antibacterial Effects of Natural Products Elderberry, Tea Tree Oil and Propolis, Using Langmuir Monolayers."

"I spoke about the work of my students, Alondra Leon '24, Derick Lavan '24 and Ivy Hawkins '26," she said. "I am very proud of the good work they did and how each year I continue to have amazing students that keep my research lab producing interesting results. All three of these students, as well as Cassandra, participated in our summer research program," another product of Kieft's generous endowment.

Hawkins presented her poster, which also involved Langmuir monolayers and the healing effects of bee propolis, on two occasions in New Orleans.

"Going to the conference was an amazing experience," she said. "I was able to fully dive into the experience because I was surrounded by other chemists. I also was able to figure out what area of chemistry I want to specialize in, so that I can be better prepared for when I pick which graduate programs to apply to in the following years."

Yuvraj Sidhu '24, whose research adviser is Moore, added, "ACS was an eye-opening experience of how big the chemistry community is."

Other students who attended the conference and presented their research included Lina Jursa '24, Natalie King '24, Zoie Kruse '24, Yasaer Moore '24 and Elizabeth Schmidt '24.

Moore's talk, titled "Exploring Microbial Diversity: Constructing a Winogradsky-inspired model for Inland Blue Holes," involved research led by Sturgeon at Forfar Field Station in the Bahamas.

"I'm always impressed with our students' passion for learning beyond the classroom," said Goach. "What's special about going to a conference is seeing them express this passion to those outside of our community. At one point, one of our students had six people at their poster, all looking engaged and excited about the work they were hearing about."

In New Orleans, the group connected with three Monmouth alumni, including Alison Trettin '21, a doctoral student in chemistry at North Carolina State University; Sam Brosend '20, a doctoral student in chemistry at St. Louis University; and Scott Shaw '03, associate professor of analytical chemistry at the University of Iowa, where he's also director of graduate studies.

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The group took time out during their March trip to New Orleans to pose for this photo.

Derick Lavan discusses his chemistry research with Monmouth professors Audra Goach and Laura Moore.