February 13, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

A professor and four students all in maroon lab coats smile at the camera.
Professor Muyskens researching with students during summer 2023.

When Mariana Dykstra was looking at colleges, she had two basic criteria. She wanted to study in the United States and be at a Christian college. From Brazil, Dykstra visited several campuses virtually before making her final decision.

“I’m so glad I came here,” said Dykstra. “I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.”

Dykstra entered Calvin University with aspirations of pursuing an engineering degree. It was her clear top choice. But, she soon realized that a passion she had in high school was bubbling up inside of her.

Do both

“I always liked chemistry and I was good at it, but at the time I wasn’t sure I wanted to do something with it for the rest of my life,” said Dykstra.

But through her experience at Calvin during her first semester, she soon found a path to combine both her love for chemistry with her desire to go into engineering. “I realized that I might actually want to do something involving chemistry for the rest of my life, especially with the engineering aspect, and I didn’t know I could combine both of them.”

So, after her first semester, she changed her major from civil engineering to chemical engineering. And so started an exciting journey—a journey that the following summer had her doing fluorescence research alongside one of her peers and her professor.

Opportunity after opportunity

“I didn’t know you could already do stuff like that in your first year of college,” said Dykstra. “From where I’m from, that’s not common to have those opportunities at the start of your experience in college.”

Dykstra’s research experience would lead to her helping develop an activity involving fluorescence for a general chemistry classroom. When her professor and research partner Mark Muyskens approached Dykstra and one of her peers, Yejin Chung, about developing a paper with him on their research, it was yet again another unexpected opportunity.

“I was a bit scared, I had never written a technical report in my life, other than in classes. It was a challenge, but so fun to get to work with them and to have a specific part of the research for myself,” said Dykstra. “The final paper was something I was proud of because I contributed to it with knowledge that was created through our experiences in the lab.”

A major milestone

In the fall of 2023, Professor Muyskens submitted their paper to the Journal for Chemical Education, which is considered the top publication for chemical educators. A few months later, Muyskens sent Dykstra and Chung a note: “We are published.”


“I rushed to see my name in the publishing co-author’s part,” said Dykstra. “It was crazy!”

For Dykstra this was a major accomplishment, but for Muyskens, this is par for the course, because he is looking for opportunities for his students.

“The students have a great student research experience here, but when they can show that they have a paper with their name on it that stands out on a resume,’” said Muyskens.’ “I’ve now had several papers with students listed as co-authors on them get published in major journals before they graduate. But, for these two students, they already have a publication as sophomores and I think that will feature well for them wherever they look to go after Calvin.”

Feeling at home

While being a published author as a sophomore is something to celebrate, what Dykstra is most satisfied with is the community that’s surrounded her.

“The research here at Calvin was so great because I got to be so close with those I worked with. My co-workers, including the senior research students Isaac Jonker and Andrea Ver Beek, were amazing. We were able to create this tight group,” said Dykstra. “From the start being involved in research is one of the biggest opportunities and one I was never expecting.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up [when I was looking at colleges], but I’m in a place where I can call home now.”

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