Chemistry student recipient of University of the Pacific's Stauffer grant
Outstanding Chemistry Student
Gabby Sonderegger

Graduation: May 2023 
Major: BS, Chemistry
Home state: Washington
Pacific organizations: The Knolens Chapter of the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society
Research: Pacific’s Stauffer Charitable Trust Challenge Grant

Why did you decide to study chemistry at Pacific?

Gabby: I credit choosing Pacific entirely to Dr. Franz. Because I’m not a huge fan of crowds, when I came to an orientation for prospective students, I was kind of hanging on the edge and Dr. Franz came up and offered to show me the chemistry facilities. It was so amazing to me that they let a potential student into the lab. I knew that I’d get research opportunities and hands-on experience. I’m hoping to be a research scientist at a national lab, so being able to do research is crucial.

How much hands-on research can you get as an undergrad at Pacific?

Gabby: I’ve been doing research since my freshman year. Being able to start right away was amazing because I came from a high school that didn't really have any lab program. All of Pacific’s chemistry classes have a lab part, so I was able to start from day one in a teaching lab and then from the second semester in a research lab. It's a huge amount of experience and new opportunities. 

I think it's easier to find research opportunities because it’s a small school and a very small chemistry and bio-chem department. You get to know the professors pretty quickly and then you just find your niche.

I don't know exactly what equipment I will be using or what exactly I will be doing after graduating, but I’m trying to get experience in a variety of areas. Something unique about Pacific is that we do have the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance machine and the mass spectrometry lab. Having that kind of very advanced equipment and people who know how to use it and are willing to train you is a huge advantage.

What is Pacific’s Stauffer Charitable Trust Challenge Grant?

Gabby: The Stauffer grant is for 10 weeks of summer research for undergraduate chemistry and bio-chem students. We started the application process by writing our research proposal, just a basic outline of what has been done on this project by students before, what you're hoping to accomplish and very basically, how you want to accomplish it. Once it was accepted, I was able to start going into the lab in June. 

During the summer, we were working loosely based off of that proposal. At the end of summer, everyone who received the grant, there were about eight students, gave presentations to the faculty, the research advisers and to donors who support the Stauffer grant.

What was the project you worked on in summer?

Gabby: Our overarching topic was developing molecular switches which have a potential future use in cancer drug delivery systems. I was able to take up a project started by previous graduate students. We took their research and, by switching up some of the components of it, tried to see how that would affect the switches.

Specifically, what we were doing over the summer was synthesizing new molecular switches to test them for the pH range where that switch occurs. Day to day, it is a lot of running reactions and writing down observations. Also, doing extractions, running chromatography columns, thin-layer chromatography plates, a lot of different lab techniques that you get to stack up together once you're running more reactions at a time.

Who collaborated with you in the lab?

Gabby: I worked in Dr. Vyacheslav Samoshin’s lab and he did a lot of the background and directing us in what we want to synthesize and what reactions we want to use. But I worked most directly with Pacific’s chemistry graduate, Oscar Mendoza. It has been amazing because he was in the lab every day helping me every time I had a question or wanted to learn a new technique. It was very one-on-one, so I was directly learning from someone who very recently had learned the same thing. It's a lot less intimidating when you keep bugging people with questions.

What stands out about your education at Pacific?

Gabby: The professors are very knowledgeable about their areas. So, if you go into an organic chemistry class, you're with a professor that has done research and studied organic chemistry far beyond what you're covering in the class. You can ask very specific questions within this area. It's great to have all these professors with such deep knowledge because you can get much more in depth with what you're interested in.

What advice would you give to any new Pacific students?

Gabby: Get to know your professors because if you want to do research with them, or if you just want to understand class material better, or even if you fall behind and need help in class, it just really helps to have connections to people. 

Professors at Pacific are very open and they know that you came here looking to get mentoring and to truly learn from them so they're all very welcoming and very open to talking to students.