There is an old saying in chemistry that like dissolves like. In the case of Mercyhurst chemistry prof Clint Jones, Ph.D., who has worked with 30 student research assistants in the past six years – all inquisitive, bright and dedicated – one clearly rose to the top.
That would be Rebecca Wheeling, who Jones has endorsed as the one student who “exhibits the most promise for a future career in science,” a testimonial that, in part, snagged her a highly competitive summer internship.
The American Chemical Society and the Society for Chemical Industry (SCI) American International Group awarded the junior chemistry major an internship with Momentive in Stafford, Texas, a global leader in the manufacture of thermoset resins. Salary for the 10-week internship is $7,200 with a $1,250 housing stipend.
Perhaps what resonated most with those evaluating Wheeling’s application is her passion.
“I care about the subject,” said the Edinboro native and General McLane High School graduate. “Someone once told me when I was trying to decide what to study in college: pick something you like and are good at because you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life. That was easy. I picked chemistry.”
Wheeling said she’s eager to immerse herself in the labs at Momentive, where scientists invented one of the world’s first plastics, first epoxy resins and first silicones for commercial use.
“Momentive develops materials, like epoxy resins, to coat on objects like plane propellers to protect them from the elements and help them withstand temperature changes,” she said. “That’s a lot like what Dr. Jones does in his field – analytical and organic chemistry – and I’ve been working with him for the past three years, so I’ve been exposed to that kind of research.”
What she hasn’t been exposed to is the industry, where she imagines herself working one day.
“That is definitely part of my goal with this internship – to see what it’s like working in the industry and to decide if that’s where I want to be,” Wheeling said.
She’s also anticipating a culture shift – entry into what is largely a male-dominated world. By most metrics, female scientists continue to face career challenges. U.S. universities employ more male scientists than female and men earn more in science occupations. According to the U.S. National Science Foundation, women earn about half the doctoral degrees in science and engineering but comprise only about 21 percent of full science professorships and 5 percent of engineering positions in academia.
At Mercyhurst, the majority of chemistry majors are women, Wheeling said. “I’ve heard it is difficult for women in this field and I do expect to encounter that, but it is not what I’ve been exposed to at Mercyhurst.”
The challenge to women, in part, is that science, certainly chemistry, is seen as an all-consuming endeavor, leaving little time for anything else, including raising a family.
“I know it is a lot of work and it is a very big commitment, but I see no reason why women can’t excel in the field,” said Wheeling, who intends to carry that kind of positive thinking into her future.
Jones has every confidence in his student. In his recommendation for her internship, he wrote, “Rebecca possesses a passion for learning, dedication, excellent critical thinking and problem solving abilities, and consistently maintains a positive demeanor.”
PHOTO: Rebecca Wheeling and Clint Jones, Ph.D.