#ElonGrad 2020 Spotlight: Avery Hatch, Biochemistry

In this series, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences is shining the spotlight on distinguished members of the Class of 2020 from a wide array of disciplines. 

Avery Hatch

A biochemistry major who is an Elon College Fellow and Lumen Scholar, Hatch was named the Outstanding Senior in Biochemistry for the Class of 2020. Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences offers a look at what Hatch has accomplished during her time at Elon and what lies ahead.

What drew you to biochemistry as a major?

I knew as an incoming student that I was interested in pursuing a career in STEM. I had always found the STEM fields to be interesting and challenging. I did not know what exactly I wanted to pursue career-wise, but after my very first class in the chemistry department (8 a.m. General Chemistry I), I could tell the chemistry department could offer me the support system to decide on a future career while excelling in the classroom. I chose biochemistry to offer me some flexibility in choosing interdisciplinary upper level electives for my major (including courses like Biophysics and Medicinal Chemistry). What truly stood out about either major, though, was the presence of the faculty and professors of the Chemistry Department behind the degree audit. They craft their majors within a true community.

What was your research topic and how did you choose that subject? How did that enrich your education?

My research is at the crossroads between biochemistry and environmental chemistry. Specifically, my Lumen project focused on the transformation of metal oxide nanoparticles in surface coatings, and the potential hazards of inhalation during application.

I actually sort of stumbled into the work. I chose my mentor within the chemistry department, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Justin Clar, first. I knew he and I would have a strong mentor-mentee relationship, as our work habits aligned well and he was passionate about his previous research work. He specializes in studying the environmental impact of nano-enhanced products. He allowed me the freedom to integrate that expertise into a biochemical project I found captivating.

I chose to incorporate the modeling of biological routes of entry and lung system incubation into his area of study. I fell in love with the world of nano-enhanced product research, environmental chemistry, and risk assessment work as I spent more time reading about and participating in those fields.

I presented at a couple of conferences, with acceptance into a third that was canceled due to COVID-19. My first presentation was a poster at the International Conference on the Environmental Effects of Nanoparticles and Nanomaterials at Duke University in Durham, N.C., in September 2018. I gave an oral presentation at the South Eastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Savannah, Ga., in October 2019. I was also accepted to give an oral presentation at the American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in Philadelphia in March 2020, which was canceled due to the pandemic.

I did also study abroad during my time at Elon. I took a winter term core capstone in Florence, Italy, in winter term 2019. The class was COR 463 Dante’s Inferno. The class was interesting, and the professor, Associate Professor of Italian Brandon Essary, is one of the most genuine and fascinating lecturers I have ever had. The course also allowed me the freedom to explore Florence. I got to see famous historical sites and immerse myself in the culture and magic of such a unique city. It was a truly incredible experience.

What is your proudest accomplishment while at Elon?

This past week, at our departmental picnic, I was awarded the Senior Biochemistry Award. This is an internal departmental award designed to recognize dedication to academics and research, as well as involvement in the department. Receiving this award felt like the culmination of all the work I’ve been most proud of over the past four years.

I have truly spent a significant portion of time in McMichael Science Center as an undergraduate. I took a rigorous course load, focused a lot of energy on my Lumen research, acted as a lab preparation assistant for multiple years, and found family in the community of the department. I am proud to have been an active member of the department and grateful for all the opportunities it provided me.

How has your relationship with your mentor furthered your educational goals or helped you grow?

I truly don’t know what my time at Elon would have looked like without the mentorship of Dr. Justin Clar. He has consistently pushed me to be the best scientist, scholar, and person I can be. He has always believed in my abilities and encouraged me to pursue my wildest dreams. He leads by example. He is passionate about his work and invested in his students’ success.

Perhaps most importantly, he knows exactly how much hands-on mentorship to provide. He gives you the tools to tackle research independently, while allowing you to truly own your project. Dr. Clar is also great at one thing many professors neglect to make a priority: telling students when they’ve done a good job. I am incredibly grateful for all the time and energy he has put into growing my future and supporting my scholarship.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now, I am planning to take a gap year. I will be spending time applying for graduate programs, doing some volunteer work, and hopefully working in a fellowship or industry position related to my field as things start to reopen. However, my ultimate plan is to enter a Ph.D. program in fall of 2021, pursuing work in environmental chemistry. I hope to one day continue to work on research professionally.

What advice would you give to future Elon students?

Just because something is a little scary doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. It was scary to move 650 miles away from my hometown of 18 years to go to Elon. It was scary to write an extensive Lumen Prize application. It was scary to go to work on my research at Argonne National Laboratory not once, but twice.

But when you are brave, and you trust in your support system, you can do the scary things. And those things will help you grow, bring you to lifelong friendship, and push you to keep working hard for what you love.

What’s your favorite Elon tradition?

Hands down, no question, the Festival of Holiday Lights. It was the first true Elon tradition I attended with friends my freshman year. I finally felt like I was finding my place at Elon. Every subsequent year I feel magic when I stand in front of Alamance and watch the lights.