April 11, 2017 | Matt Kucinski

Nathanael Kazmierczak and Brianna Busscher are continuing Calvin's track record of Goldwater success.

Within three months of starting at Calvin College, Nathanael Kazmierczak was side-by-side in a research lab receiving one-on-one mentorship from a faculty member with a PhD in his field. Doug Vander Griend, a professor of chemistry, taught Kazmierczak how to write a scientific journal article. And within a year-and-a-half, Kazmierczak was the first author on a journal publication.

A year later, Kazmierczak, Vander Griend and a few other research students went to Philadelphia for the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, where Kazmierczak says he was exposed to “cutting-edge research from all over the world.”

Now Kazmierczak, a sophomore chemistry and music double major, is the latest Calvin student to be named a Goldwater Scholar, widely considered the top research award for undergraduate students and only awarded to 240 students nationwide each year.

“None of these invaluable experiences would have happened without the one-on-one training and commitment to undergraduate learning that Dr. Vander Griend has demonstrated,” said Kazmierczak, “In my experience, these attitudes are widely shared by Calvin's faculty members.”

A track record of success

Over the past decade, Calvin College has been one of the national leaders for producing Goldwater Scholars, with 17 Calvin students receiving the prestigious honor during that span of time.

“Our students have come to expect that they will receive the exemplary training and research that such a track record signifies. It encourages all of us to continue to do research that meets their expectations,” said Carolyn Anderson, a professor of chemistry at Calvin College and Calvin’s liaison with the Goldwater Scholar program.

In addition to Kazmierczak’s Goldwater, junior biochemistry and writing double major Brianna Busscher was one of 307 students nationwide selected as a Goldwater Honorable Mention.

Busscher’s research experiences at Calvin have been robust, allowing her to work in three different labs on three distinctly different projects. During her freshman year, she researched bacteriophage—tiny viruses that infect bacteria—with professors Randy DeJong and John Wertz. The next summer she researched in Professor John Wertz’s lab studying the evolutionary relationship between herbivorous ants and their symbiotic gut bacteria, and this past summer she worked with chemistry professor Larry Louters on GluT1 research.

“My interactions with professors are inseparable from my success. The professors that I have worked with have been amazing mentors. They guided my research and helped me to understand my experiments and results, but they also trusted me to plan and conduct experiments on my own,” said Busscher. “I really value that blend of autonomy and one-on-one instruction. As experts in their fields, my professors have also introduced me to a wealth of resources, opportunities, and possibilities that I could never have found on my own.”

A deeper dive into research

The two are excited for the next step in their research journeys. For Kazmierczak that means using the Goldwater Scholarship—a $7,500 stipend—to continue his research with Vander Griend, using mathematics and computer analysis to advance chemical understanding.

Busscher will be working this summer in the lab of Dr. Piroska Szabo at the Van Andel Research Institute in downtown Grand Rapids, studying epigenetics in the context of development and reproduction.

An equipped passion

And both Kazmierczak and Busscher say that their experience at Calvin not only deepened their love for research, but also equipped them for their future explorations.

“Research provides me with a way to use the intellectual gifts God has given me to discover knowledge previously hidden to mankind,” said Kazmierczak. “I believe my research experience at Calvin has given me the scientific understanding and problem-solving ability to be a productive graduate student researcher, and I am greatly looking forward to the intellectual adventures ahead.”

“Doing research brought me into a community of other scientists who share my passion and desire to investigate the world’s inner workings. Being part of this community played a significant role in my decision to pursue research as a career,” said Busscher. “I have learned how to plan and conduct experiments, analyze data, and problem solve, but of equal importance are the skills I gained communicating my work to others. Presenting posters, attending conferences, giving a seminar presentation, and writing a report of my results taught me how to relate my work to a variety of audiences, which is a critical skill for scientists.

“Beyond learning research skills, I have come to appreciate the beautiful complexity of creation during my time at Calvin. I am continually stunned by how carefully and splendidly God put the world together.”

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