The Student Summer Scholars (S3) program is Grand Valley State University’s premier research program for undergraduates and allows students to gain hands-on experience while having a chance to create and shape knowledge in their chosen field. The S3 program is made possible in part by the Ott-Stiner Fellowship in Chemistry and Natural Sciences which helps to pay for the scholar’s living wage, project supplies and travel expenses. This year, Benjamin Nicholson and Talon Kosak were given the opportunity to contribute to the scientific community through S3 research and were selected to be Ott-Stiner Scholars.
Nicholson, a senior at Grand Valley, is double majoring in chemistry and biomedical science with an emphasis in bio-chemistry. Before coming to Grand Valley, Ben had not strongly considered studying chemistry specifically, but after taking Chemistry 115 decided to add it to his focus. Nicholson was also inspired to pursue this course of study because of his family doctor, Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, who arranged a job shadow opportunity for Ben.
“He was a great role model,” Nicholson said, “although he teaches full time, he still found time to help and guide me.”
Nicholson’s decision to study at Grand Valley was driven by the university’s reputation for strong science programs. Another important factor to Ben, a Grand Rapids native, was his family who have always supported him and wanted to see him continue his academic success without traveling too far from home.
“It was a great opportunity for me to come to Grand Valley and ended up being the best thing I did in my life,” Nicholson said.
Talon Kosak is a junior studying chemistry with a minor in Spanish. Kosak said that he took several advanced placement (AP) classes in high school and found he liked history but was also a great science student with an interest in plants.
“My mom has a green thumb,” Kosak said, “our garden is always gorgeous and in high school I got into plants and gardening too.”
Talon’s interest in nature took off as he finished high school and began looking for colleges to attend. Kosak said that studying plants and their natural chemistry was what he was passionate about. For him, Grand Valley stood out as a university that had a strong emphasis on science fields but also focused on student success.
“I really liked the small class sizes,” Kosak said, “you can get a lot of 1 on 1 time with professors if you ask them for help.”
Students enrolled in S3 are challenged and encouraged by faculty mentors to think critically in order to fully understand certain concepts. S3 is not dedicated to one specific area of study but presents a variety of works that range from microbiology to cultural ethics.
“I was pushed by my academic advisor; Dr. Richard Lord, to do S3 because I needed that deep exposure to research,” Kosak said, “this opportunity has made me want to pursue chemistry.”
Research is an important component of education, and learning how to properly conduct and present research allows students to be fully prepared for their future profession regardless what that might be.
“I’ve gotten a lot of experience working not only with fellow students but also with professionals,” Nicholson said.
The Ott-Stiner Fellowship in Chemistry and Natural Sciences was initiated in 2011 in memory of Arnold and Marion Ott who had a strong belief in education and philanthropy. Today their daughter Jackie (Ott) and son-in-law Les Stiner continue to uphold and exemplify the same ideals. This fund is not only making a difference to summer scholars but many students who will continue to rethink and improve scientific practices.
“I think this work could have a big impact,” Kosak said, “if we can prove experimentally what we observe, we can go back and predict outcomes and eventually produce pharmaceuticals more easily and efficiently.”
Students like Ben and Talon are grateful for opportunities like the S3 program and the Ott-Stiner Fellowship that allow them to gain the experience they need to be fully prepared to enter the professional world.
Benjamin Nicholson is in the process of applying to medical school and Talon Kosak also plans to attend graduate school after Grand Valley. Both are very excited about their future studies and recognize the help they have received so far.
“I would like to express my gratitude to the Stiners,” Nicholson said. “I think their goal was to help students and they’ve certainly done that.”
“I would like to thank the Stiners for contributing to science,” Kosak said. “It’s not only me they support but also science as a whole as it expands.”