Adam Garske, Ph.D.: Scientist at DuPont

Adam Garske, Ph.D.

Scientist at DuPont

Alumni Adam Garske‌‌

2003 Graduate
Chemistry B.S.

What have you done since graduating from St. Thomas with your degree?

After graduating from St. Thomas, I obtained a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the UW-Madison.  I then did three years of postdoctoral study at UCSF in the area of chemical biology.  In 2011, I took a job as a scientist in the Industrial Biosciences section of DuPont in Palo Alto, CA.  Industrial Biosciences specializes in production of industrial enzymes (proteases, amylases, etc.), biomaterials and biofuels.  My role as a scientist in the bioanalytical group is to use chemical approaches to delineate mechanisms of enzyme failure and to provide solutions.  I am also involved in a group looking for new “green” product opportunities at the interface of chemistry and biology. 

‌How did you choose your major?

I actually started out as a biology major and found chemistry to be a necessary evil in the curriculum.  I found chemistry to be challenging and almost elected to switch to an English major.  In the end, though, I was motivated by the challenge and learned to appreciate the logic of chemistry.  Halfway through my sophomore year, I switched my major to chemistry.  What appealed to me was the fact that you could apply a certain set of physical principles to solving so many types of problem.  I was also drawn to chemical synthesis.  I found the idea that I could create something that had never been made before to be particularly gratifying.  The chemistry professors at St. Thomas also played a significant role in my choice of a major.  I always found the staff to be accessible and encouraging. They wanted you to succeed and gave you every opportunity.       

How do you feel your experience in the Chemistry Department prepared you for your current position?

My experience in the chemistry department has had a significant impact on my position today.  One of the major advantages I had going into graduate school was the amount of undergraduate research I had performed relative to other students.  At St. Thomas, I had the opportunity to work in Dr. Ippoliti’s lab for a summer and into the school year.  To this day, I still use methods that I learned in Dr. Ippoliti’s lab.  In addition, as my understanding of chemistry advanced throughout my time at St. Thomas and later in graduate school, I was ready to venture back into biology but from a new angle.  Having a firm grasp of chemical principles has given me a real advantage in that I can tackle challenges in biology at the molecular level.

Are there any other memories you would like to share about the Department?

I have a lot of great memories from the chemistry department.  One thing that I appreciated about St. Thomas was the small class size.  As I got into the more advanced chemistry courses, all of the same students were in the classes.  These small class sizes really gave us a chance to get to know each other and the professors.  Around the time of graduation, we had a chemistry department event at the Old Spaghetti Factory.  During dinner, all the professors gave each of the students a gift.  I was given a fireman hat in remembrance of a fire that I started when refluxing a compound in dimethylformamide, which happened two years before.  By the way, the flask spontaneously broke in the oil bath through no fault of my own.  It’s just that the boiling point of DMF is really high!  Joking aside, as a chemistry major at St. Thomas, you will really get to know your professors.  To this day (eleven years after graduating), I still try to meet up with members of the St. Thomas faculty every time I go to an American Chemical Society conference.  Finally, a chemistry major equips you with a set of critical thinking skills that can be deployed in many fields.  Some good friends of mine have used their St. Thomas chemistry degrees to go into medicine or law.


Will Hafner, Ph.D.: Environmental Chemist with NewFields Consulting

Will Hafner, Ph.D.

Environmental Chemist with NewFields Consulting

Alumni William Hafner

2000 Graduate
Chemistry B.A.

What have you done since graduating from St. Thomas with your degree?

After graduating, I went to graduate school at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University to complete my Ph.D. From there I moved to Seattle for a post-doc at the University of Washington. I was ready for a change after spending 8 years in academia.  In 2007, I switched over to environmental consulting.  I’ve been working with the same group since. We specialize in marine sediment management. This includes characterizing sediment for dredged material disposal, investigating and delineating contaminated sites, and allocating damages between responsible parties at a cleanup site. Chemistry is a particularly important aspect of the job since evaluating the concentrations of contaminants in sediment is the first step in determining a potential source of the contamination and whether additional work is needed.

‌How did you choose your major?

I was originally going to go for just the environmental studies major with a minor in chemistry, but decided taking a few more classes to get the chemistry B.A. would be more useful. That turned out to be a wise choice as both majors have been equally important in my career. I went with chemistry over the other sciences because I’ve always been interested in the pollution side of environmental issues, and I wanted to know more about those contaminants.

How do you feel your experience in the Chemistry Department prepared you for your current position?

Every chemistry class I took at UST was helpful at some point in either graduate school or my current consulting job. Perhaps the most useful class I took was Dr. Mabbott’s analytical chemistry. One of my current roles is coordinating the analysis of our sediment samples with various laboratories. To do this I have to be somewhat familiar with the capabilities of various instruments.  Analytical chemistry was the first (and in many cases only) hands on experience I got with these instruments.

Are there any other memories you would like to share about the Department?

I have one more general comment about selecting a major. You can’t go wrong with any of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, but you should also take full advantage of some of the other departments at UST. Get a minor, or even a major, in an area where you have to think and communicate in a different way than the technical language of chemistry. One of the most useful skills I have is being able to write documents with a technical content to an audience of policy makers.

Carrie Peterson: Technical Manager at 3M Company

Carrie Peterson

Technical Manager at 3M Company

1998 Graduate: Chemistry B.S.
2008 Graduate: UST MBA Program

What have you done since graduating from St. Thomas with your degree?

I was hired by 3M when I graduated to be an entry level research chemist working on adhesives for sporting goods and electronics.  From research I moved to a technical support position with 3M Aerospace.  My chemistry degree was very important in understanding the engineered adhesives that are utilized in aircraft manufacturing.  Additionally, my background in chemistry and my MBA allowed me to act as a liaison between development and marketing personnel.  After working in technical support for aerospace adhesives, I went into sales and then other various business roles.  Most recently I have accepted a position as a technical manager with the Materials Resource Division at 3M.  I will be working with a group of mostly PhD chemists. I anticipate that my St. Thomas degree in chemistry will be very beneficial in being able to understand the research the group is doing.

‌How did you choose your major?

I decided on chemistry as a major in high school.  Two chemists came to speak to my 9th grade pre-chemistry class and I was fascinated.  I took A.P. chemistry in high school and knew I wanted to know more.

How do you feel your experience in the Chemistry Department prepared you for your current position?

Obviously the course work and lab work were a huge part in preparing for work in the labs at 3M, but more important was the approach the department took to learning.  Each and every professor that I had in the Chemistry Department encouraged students to ask questions and strive to understand the why, not just the how.  They challenged us to think about things in different ways, not just linear thinking.  Additionally, they took every opportunity available to stress ethics and making sound decisions.  I think that foundation, along with great role models at 3M, helped prepare me for my current technical manager role.

Are there any other comments you would like to share about the Department?

I am forever grateful to the St. Thomas Chemistry Department.  The professors knew I was struggling financially so Doc G. helped me find scholarships, Dr. Hartshorn helped me get hired as a tech aide at 3M, and Dr. Brom successfully led me, and others, through Europe in one piece!  I have many great memories but mostly just want to say Thank You for preparing me for life after St. Thomas.

Philip Remes, Ph.D.: Senior Research Scientist at Thermo Scientific

Philip Remes, Ph.D.

Senior Research Scientist at Thermo Scientific

Alumni Spotlight Remes

2003 Graduate
Chemistry B.S.

What have you done since graduating from St. Thomas with your degree?

I went to graduate school for Analytical Chemistry at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where I acquired a background in instrumentation by building several mass spectrometers. This included a quadrupole ion trap that could be cooled down to 20 K for doing IR spectroscopy.  Upon graduating with my Ph.D., I was hired by Thermo Scientific to do research and development of new mass spectrometry systems.  My main interests are in quadrupole ion traps, signal processing, and writing software for controlling these systems and modeling their behaviors.

‌How did you choose your major?

Initially I had the idea to become a doctor, a notion born out of a profound ignorance of the types of interesting things one can do for a profession, and that’s why I initially chose a chemistry major.  There was a seminar one time where a doctor came and explained in some detail what it was that doctors do, and in a moment of insight I realized I could never talk to people about their problems all day.  Then, my general chemistry teacher one day said to me as I sat in the hall, “why don’t you be a chemist, you are good at this!”, and I said “jeez, maybe so”, and another student told me about the interesting research he was doing, so I went and talked to all the professors, and decided to work with Dr. Mabbott.  I had enough good experiences doing this, and in all my chemistry classes to show me that there were a lot of interesting things to do out there with a chemistry education.  I was additionally impressed and excited with the idea of graduate school by the Chemistry seminars, where we saw many great talks, and also were forced to do some investigation into the cutting edge research being done out there.

How do you feel your experience in the Chemistry Department prepared you for your current position?

I feel like we got a great introduction to a wide range of important topics, but at the same time, if something did pique your interest, there were ample opportunities to learn about it more in depth.  For example, in Dr. Mabbott’s instrumentation class, we got to do projects in collaboration with real companies, and experience first-hand what sorts of analytical problems people are trying to solve every day.  I was able to have instrument time all to myself afterwards, when I did some interesting research projects with Dr. Mabbott.  Another semester, I got to do a totally different organic synthesis project with Dr. Ippoliti.  After having gone to graduate school for chemistry and eventually getting a chemistry related job, I can confidently say that St. Thomas did a great job of preparing me and giving me opportunities to be successful.

Are there any other memories you would like to share about the Department?

I remember as we got to our third and fourth years and the pre-med students were no longer with us, there was this small core of only like 8 of us, that got to be really good friends.  Of course, 8:1 is a fantastic student-to-professor ratio, and we also got to know the professors well.  This was very nice in and of itself, and also the level of attention and help we got was tremendous.  Additionally, I can directly trace the path my life took because of the Merck internship that I got through Dr. Mabbott, which eventually led to going to Chapel Hill for graduate school.  I remember that we all went bowling as a department one time, and during my internship in this small Pennsylvania town, I had acquired a bowling ball that you could spin really well because of the urethane cover.  However, I could not convince Dr. Ojala that the reason the ball would spin was because there was oil on the floor, and that the oil stops right before the pins, and the ball sticks on the dry wood.  He was convinced I was pulling his leg.

Amber Schoenecker: Graduate Student at the University of Minnesota

Amber Schoenecker

Graduate Student at the University of Minnesota

Alumni Spotlight

2013 Graduate
Biochemistry B.S.

What have you done since graduating from St. Thomas with your degree?

Since graduating from St. Thomas, I have started graduate school in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnestoa. I am  working for Dr. Reuben Harris, studying the APOBEC3 family of cytosine deaminases.

‌How did you choose your major?

When I began at the University of St. Thomas, I was originally a biology major. After taking General Chemistry courses with Dr. Marcus, I realized how much I was interested in chemistry. I switched my major to biochemistry so that I would be able to take more chemistry classes and because the information I learned would be applicable to the research I was doing with Dr. Prevette.

How do you feel your experience in the Chemistry Department prepared you for your current position?

I think that my education from the UST Chemistry Department prepared me well for graduate school. Working for Dr. Prevette gave me a realistic view of what it’s like to have a career in research. It also helped me learn the opportunities that are available through the Chemistry Department, such as scholarships, grants, and presenting posters.  All of these skills helped me a lot during the interview process and once I began my graduate program. The professors in the UST Chemistry Department are always willing to help out, even after graduation.

Are there any other comments you would like to share about the Department?

Being a part of the University of St. Thomas Chemistry department was a great experience and proved to be very beneficial. I highly recommend becoming involved in the research and organizations in this department!

Jon Smieja, Ph.D.: Environmental Chemist at Steelcase Inc.

Jon Smieja, Ph.D.

Environmental Chemist at Steelcase Inc.

Alumni Spotlight Smieja

2005 Graduate
Chemistry B.S.

What have you done since graduating from St. Thomas with your degree?

I took one year off after graduation and worked full time at the Phillips Eye Institute Pharmacy in Minneapolis. After that year, I attended graduate school at the University of California – San Diego (2006-2012) where I studied the electrocatalytic reduction of carbon dioxide and water to synthetic fuels in the laboratory of Professor Clifford Kubiak. After defending my dissertation in April 2012 I began a three month adventure with my wife to visit over 20 national parks in the western half of the U.S. After finishing that trip we landed back in Minnesota where I began my job search, eventually finding a position at Steelcase, Inc., the world’s largest producer of office furniture, as the Environmental Chemist in the Global Environmental Sustainability group. I moved to Grand Rapids, MI in January 2013 for the position. My wife Lacey and I bought a house and live in Grand Rapids with our daughter (2/28/2014) Mayzie and our dog Lincoln.

‌How did you choose your major?

I came into St. Thomas as a pre-med student planning to major in chemistry as a means of getting into medical school. I quickly discovered that I enjoyed chemistry much more than biology and decided, instead of the pre-medical track, to pursue chemistry while completing the prerequisites to attend pharmacy school. Towards the end of my studies, however, my interest for chemistry grew and I decided to attend graduate school.

How do you feel your experience in the Chemistry Department prepared you for your current position?

I strongly believe that, whether students are planning to work in the sustainability field in the future or not, that they need to understand green chemistry. After working in industry for over a year now I realize how little care for human health and the environment goes into decision making when looking for new chemicals and materials, and the only way to change that is to way chemists are trained. 

Are there any other memories you would like to share about the Department?

Although I am not very good at remembering the specifics of my time at St. Thomas, I do remember the relationships I made with both faculty and my fellow students, and the great times I had working in the summer research program. My time at St. Thomas was definitely one of the best of my life.

Josh Speros, Ph.D.: Research Chemist at BASF

‌Josh Speros, Ph.D.

Research Chemist at BASF

Alumni Josh Speros

2008 Graduate
Chemistry B.S.

What have you done since graduating from St. Thomas with your degree?

I attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota, obtaining a Ph.D. in organic/polymer chemistry. My advisors were Marc Hillmyer (Chemistry) and Dan Frisbie (Chemical Engineering & Materials Science). Following graduation, I started work at BASF as a Research chemist in corporate research.

‌How did you choose your major?

I had some very good mentors along the way.  Additionally, I was, and still am, attracted to the idea of chemistry as the central science—the connection between mathematics, physics, geology, biology, etc.      

How do you feel your experience in the Chemistry Department prepared you for your current position?

My undergraduate research opportunities gave me the opportunity to develop some early skills as an independent researcher. Time at St. Thomas also afforded me an industrial internship opportunity, which helped me decide to pursue a graduate degree before returning to industry. The labs at UST are also equipped very well. This gave me early experience with many instruments that I now make regular use of.

Are there any other memories you would like to share about the Department?

•    Prof. Ojala’s perfect handwriting and structure drawing
•    Prof. Brom’s awesome demonstrations (I’ll never forget the liquid oxygen)!
•    Prof. Ippoliti’s summer research group.
•    Prof. Borgerding’s attention to detail (it has been a truly invaluable skill).




Vlad Vinnik: Graduate Student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison

Vlad Vinnik

Graduate Student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison

Alumni Vlad Vinnik

2012 Graduate
Chemistry B.S.

What have you done since graduating from St. Thomas with your degree?

I am currently a graduate student in the Department of Bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison working for Dr. Michael Thomas.

‌How did you choose your major?

By the time I actually chose my major I was already quite involved with the department through classes, research in the Ippoliti lab, and the Chemistry Club, so it was a pretty natural choice. Initially I took a year of general chemistry to satisfy a requirement for a major that I was pursuing at that time, and while this was also the reason I enrolled in Organic Chemistry, by the end of that year I decided to be a chemistry major and started doing research in the Ippoliti lab. I think little-by-little I realized that I liked the subject matter and showed some aptitude for it but perhaps the major factor contributing to my decision was the culture that I found in the UST Chemistry Department.

How do you feel your experience in the Chemistry Department prepared you for your current position?

I became interested in microbiology and specifically natural product biosynthesis while working on my senior seminar, a requirement of all UST chemistry majors. After graduation, I basically switched fields, which is never easy. I think the reason I was able to make this transition successfully is that during my time in the Chemistry Department I acquired the necessary skills to be an independent learner and the confidence to try new things in the lab. I did a lot of research as an undergraduate – it is very easy at UST to get into a research lab early and actually do experiments – subsequently I failed a lot, which it turns out is the natural course of things in scientific research. These early experiences as well as the great faculty in the Chemistry Department prepared me for graduate school.

Are there any other comments you would like to share about the Department?

There are simply too many memories to list – my undergraduate experience is intimately tied to the Chemistry Department and the 4th floor of OWS in which it is housed. Besides a great education the Department fosters a real sense of community – for me it was like a second home.