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Welch Foundation Underscores High Quality Chemistry Research at University of St. Thomas-Houston

Dr. Michelle Steiger, UST Chair of Chemistry and BiochemistryChemistry research matters at the University of St. Thomas-Houston and is underscored by an essential partner — The Welch Foundation. UST’s robust Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry occupies the entire top floor of the Center for Science and Health Professions, and features laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art instruments. As one of the largest private funding sources for chemistry researchers in Texas, The Welch Foundation has been providing funds needed to support expert professors and students at UST for more than two decades. Their most recent grant from 2021 supports faculty research as well as undergraduate student research over a three-year period. 

Students Benefit from Unique Research Experience

“Because of the support, we’re able to offer students experience in working through a problem in the lab setting, which gives our students a strong skillset they will need in any medical or scientific profession,” said the Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dr. Michelle A. Steiger. “Our students have access to chromatography equipment for separation and spectroscopy instruments for analysis. These are instruments commonly used in professional chemistry labs. Without The Welch Foundation, we simply could not provide our unique research experience.”

Steiger cites that Welch Foundation-supported research has led to publications and presentations with UST undergraduate students as lead authors. For example, Associate Professor Dr. Richa Chandra works on the breakdown of lipid particles in the bloodstream, and she’s been able to publish initial studies involving UST undergraduates. She has additional publications still in the writing stage. Because of the Foundation’s support, UST is able to send research students to the American Chemical Society National Meeting annually to present their work. The opportunity gives UST chemistry and biochemistry students an edge in starting their careers.

“Private philanthropy, including this wonderful grant, has infinite power to open doors for our students,” said Vice President of University Advancement and Chief Development Officer Dawn Koenning. “Whether a gift provides direct scholarship support or unique research opportunities, the transformational impact on the lives of our students is undeniable, and we are so grateful for The Welch Foundation and their current Chair and Director Doug Foshee.”

Welch-Funded Student Stipends Build Solid Lab Skills

Student stipends through Welch enable chemistry students — who might have had to supplement finances with a part-time job — to be paid while getting research experience instead.

“On average, we support no less than a dozen students annually and hundreds of students since the support began,” Steiger offered. 

Ample UST research experience pays off. Steiger recalled an example when one of her students was looking for a job after graduation.

“The employer called me as a reference and was astonished by the amount of solid lab skills and knowledge this student had. Welch had funded that student for three of her four years as an undergrad. And literally, that employer asked how many more students we had like that one and if we could send them over.”

Transformation Through Research

According to Steiger, research experience at UST can be transformative.

“We’ve had students pivot their career plans after having such meaningful research experiences,” she said proudly. “One student who had planned to go into medicine is now working on his Ph.D in Chemistry at Purdue.”

Welch Foundation and UST Make Great Chemistry

Chemistry studies the properties and behavior of matter, which makes up everything in and around us.

The Welch Foundation is interested in supporting chemistry and “its service to both the betterment and the understanding of human life.”

UST’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry offers four degrees:

·      B.A. in Chemistry

·      B.S. in Chemistry

·      B.S. in Biochemistry

·      B.S. in Chemistry/M.S. in Industrial Chemistry

A good partnership makes for great chemistry.