April 21, 2008

Lauren Sefcik ’04 Honored With Fellowship At University Of Virginia

She will return to Lafayette as assistant professor of chemical engineering next school year

Lauren Sefcik ’04 has received the Faculty Senate Dissertation-Year Fellowship at University of Virginia where she is pursuing doctoral studies. The fellowship rewards “graduate students who have taught extraordinarily well at University of Virginia while maintaining a record of excellence in their research.”

Sefcik will return to Lafayette as an assistant professor of chemical engineering next school year. The fellowship will allow her to wrap up her doctoral research project as well as pursue additional teaching opportunities.

“Receiving this award is particularly exciting because it recognizes my ability to teach, inspire, and motivate undergraduates in both the classroom and the laboratory, which I feel passionate about and will be pursuing as a career,” says the chemical engineering graduate.

Sefcik’s research focuses on a molecule known as sphingosine 1-phosphate and its role in remodeling blood vessels in adult tissues. Specifically, she is developing strategies for inducing new blood vessel formation in areas of tissue disease through the controlled delivery of small molecules like sphingosine 1-phosphate. Such strategies could provide solutions to a wide variety of medical problems, from functional integration of tissue-engineered implants to the restoration of blood flow in the lower limbs of diabetic patients.

She is looking forward to joining the chemical engineering faculty at Lafayette. She plans to introduce special-topics courses in areas such as tissue engineering and the life sciences.

“I am just ecstatic to be returning to College Hill – this time standing in front of the classroom instead of sitting behind the desks in Acopian Engineering Center,” she says. “I look forward to providing the next generation of Lafayette students with the amazing experience I was given.”

Sefcik believes Lafayette’s undergraduate-only atmosphere and committed faculty were integral in helping her successfully pursue doctoral studies. She especially appreciated the one-on-one faculty interaction in the lab. For Chemical Engineering Lab III, she designed an experiment and ordered a new pump for the lab that is still used today.

“That opportunity may not have arisen at a larger university where graduate students are often called upon to design new experiments,” she explains. “Additionally, all professors I worked with across the entire campus were genuinely interested in my well-being and my future successes.”

One such professor was James Ferri, associate professor of chemical engineering, who mentored Sefcik through the graduate school application process. He also played a role in helping her secure a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which funded her first three years of graduate school in biomedical engineering.

“The dedication he showed and the individual attention to my application were unique and speak volumes to the mentor Dr. Ferri is and to the overall dedication of the Lafayette faculty,” she says. “The [NSF] fellowship really made all the difference, as I’m not sure I would have ended up where I am today without it. I absolutely had the ‘Lafayette experience.’ The close-knit community allowed me to foster strong friendships with my peers and develop professional relationships with faculty that have proved immensely beneficial in my graduate studies.”

The academic opportunities Sefcik had as an undergraduate not only made her stand out among graduate school applicants, but gave her the confidence to handle the rigors of a Ph.D. program.

“The lack of graduate students [at Lafayette] places the primary emphasis on the undergraduates to carry out scientific research, present at national conferences, and publish in scholarly journals,” she says. “Because of Lafayette’s small size and individualized attention, I matured professionally to a greater extent than if I had attended a large research university. Upon entering graduate school, I felt extremely prepared in both my written and verbal communication skills and was very comfortable approaching professors for help or just to talk, which was directly attributed to the one-on-one faculty-student interactions that occurred on a daily basis at Lafayette.

“As an engineer at Lafayette, I had a true command of some of the larger problems I was trying to solve because of the liberal arts setting. To this end, I feel that President [Dan] Weiss’ strategic plan for the life sciences is integral to not only maintaining but highlighting this true strength of the College.”

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