The ties continue past commencement for chemistry majors at Mac.
Richmond Sarpong ’95, now an associate professor of chemistry at Berkeley, said this of his undergrad years: “My experiences in Becky Hoye’s lab were fantastic. I was in the first class she worked with at Macalester. She was patient, encouraging, and set a very high bar; she remains an inspiration. A lasting lesson I took from her is that science is not only about the objective contributions but also about the people.”
Sarpong has himself now mentored a number of Mac students, including Laura Miller ’05 and Erica Schultz ’08. Miller worked with Sarpong in his Berkeley lab, earning her PhD in 2010. She is currently pursuing a post-doc at Princeton. Schultz, in the fourth year of PhD studies, also works in Sarpong’s lab. The three are unanimous in praising their Macalester education, especially their work with Hoye.
Says Schultz, “I’m always talking about Professor Hoye and how she changed my life path. A large part of my motivation for pursuing the path I have is to repay this debt. I feel the only way I can do that is by working my hardest to inspire other young people.
“I came to Mac to study studio arts and religion, but found my calling in organic chemistry."
“I came to Mac to study studio arts and religion, but found my calling in organic chemistry, undoubtedly because of my sophomore organic class. Professor Hoye teaches a difficult class. She is straightforward about this and does not compromise, no matter how loudly students protest. To me, the difficulty of her class was a compliment—she had faith we could all rise to the challenge.” When she herself teaches, says Schultz, she does her best Hoye imitation, and it must work: after her first semester at Berkeley, she was given an outstanding graduate student instructor award.
Under Sarpong’s tutelage at Berkeley, PhD students work to identify efficient ways to prepare complex organic molecules, the type used in more than half of all medicines. “Most of the compounds we make are inspired by, or closely related to, compounds that have been isolated from nature—plants, marine organisms, soil microbes, etc.,” says Sarpong. “My interest in this area can be traced directly back to things Dr. Hoye was working on during my time at Macalester.”
With the mentoring of both Hoye and Sarpong behind her, Miller was well prepared for postdoctoral work at Princeton, where she’s working to synthesize target compounds that could lead to the commercial production of important pharmaceuticals. Schultz, in turn, appreciates how Miller advised her when she first arrived at Berkeley. “A large public university like Berkeley was definitely a culture shock,” says Schultz, “and having Laura to help me navigate was invaluable.”
In other words, Professor Hoye’s lesson abides: The science is also about the people.