Last year, the American Chemical Society’s organic chemistry division named nine Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows—that’s only nine from the entire country—and one of them was Anneliese Gest ’17.

This fall she’s headed to the University of California–Berkeley in pursuit of a PhD in chemical biology, a field she first discovered at Macalester.

Gest already had a strong interest in chemistry, but she chose a liberal arts college in part so she could explore other disciplines before committing to a career path. “I took a first-year course in geology,” says Gest, “and dabbled in biology and some other areas, but by the time I was taking the second semester of general chemistry, I knew that’s what I wanted.”

Gest’s first summer research experiences were in biology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, her hometown. In spring of her junior year, she took Chemical Biology with Professor Leah Witus. Inspired by that research area, she asked Witus about working in her lab.

Witus recommended some scientific papers for Gest to study and soon she was working with Witus, an opportunity she deemed “an awesome experience.” Mentored by Witus, Gest developed the research proposal that resulted in her ACS fellowship, which provided $5,000 to support her summer research, a project she further developed as an honors project in her senior year.

“Leah helped me to design my project,” says Gest. “She taught me how to go into the literature, find what’s relevant, and take it to my project.

“Leah helped me to design my project,” says Gest. “She taught me how to go into the literature, find what’s relevant, and take it to my project. She also advised me as I applied to graduate school.”

“Chemical biology takes its inspiration from nature,” explains Gest. “We would like to use proteins to solve problems in a variety of fields, but they are fragile and break down easily. I have been exploring the use of peptides, which are shorter, more robust versions of proteins, to see if they work for our purposes. This research has implications for chemical catalysis and the synthesis of new medicines.”

It’s not only bench science that Gest finds compelling; she enjoys the challenge of helping others learn chemistry. She served in Macalester’s Supplemental Instruction program, in which she worked with chemistry professor Ron Brisbois. As an SI, she held office hours and offered regular small group study and review sessions that helped students at all levels make the most of Brisbois’s Organic Chemistry course. She also taught lab techniques in Witus’s Young Researchers group, supporting students experiencing their first taste of laboratory research.

As a chemistry major, Gest is very happy with her decision to come to Macalester. “The classes are excellent and there are a variety of research opportunities. The professors become your mentors; you can go to them about research, jobs, and graduate school and when it’s time to ask for recommendations, they really know you.”

“I’ve been lucky to do research with Anneliese,” says Witus. “She exemplifies the best qualities of Macalester students—she is determined, hardworking, and always interested in expanding her knowledge. She’s accomplished a lot here at Macalester and I look forward to watching her success in graduate school and beyond.”

June 19 2017

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