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Soon-to-Be Industrial Chemistry Graduate Reflects on her Academic Journey while Looking Forward

PhotoCaitlin Ewald, of Oxford, will graduate Summa Cum Laude from Ferris State University, receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Chemistry on Saturday, May 7.

It was more than child’s play for Caitlin Ewald when development time at her mother’s in-home daycare operation turned to the stuff of science. That initial exposure to the building blocks of life was formative to her classroom and laboratory excellence in Ferris State University’s Chemistry department.

“Chemistry has always intrigued me. I had not thought about it as a pathway to a career early on, but it always kept my attention,” Ewald said. “I would say that a chemistry course I took as part of Oxford Schools’ Early College program in my sophomore year showed me that this was my calling. As I continued in dual enrollment courses through Rochester University, I remained certain that when I went off to college, I would study chemistry and consider the professional options that could present for me.”

Where to go to follow her dreams, which include graduating Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Chemistry from the College of Arts, Sciences and Education at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 7, called for careful consideration from Caitlin.

“I knew I would go to school in Michigan, at a public university,” Ewald said. “I was not interested in the largest state schools, so I applied to Ferris and two other schools in the state university system. I was accepted at Ferris at the two other schools but received a package here that covered my tuition, which made it an easy choice for where I would continue to learn.”

Another aspect of the Industrial Chemistry program Ewald found appealing was an emphasis on experiential student learning.

“I feel that chemistry is best understood when it is presented, hands-on to students,” Ewald said. “When you are out in industry, there will not be someone operating the instruments for you, so Ferris’ approach, where students make their measurements, is a better experience than observing a professor or teaching assistant at those same controls. I was also sold on Ferris’ program when I learned faculty would lead my classes, rather than seeing graduate students upfront, for lectures or lab sessions.”

While the university offers a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry, Ewald’s pursuits are in the Bachelor of Science program, which has separate concentrations in Manufacturing or Fermentation.

“That is very satisfying, to be in a program where you may give some structure to your education, to best approach your hopes for a career,” Ewald said.

Caitlin began her studies at Ferris in the fall of 2019 and, in her second year, sought and accepted research opportunities through Physical Sciences Professor Bill Killian.

“Getting familiar with the scientific research process has been a great experience,” Ewald said. “We made a virtual poster presentation in the spring of 2021 and traveled to Livonia this past November. I presented with another student, Paul Koehler, of Traverse City, and Professor Killian. We offered our ‘Inquiry into Solution Behavior Using Refractive Index’ at the Association of Analytical Chemists symposium.”

In late March, Ewald and fellow student Heather Schoenherr, of Grant, and Physical Sciences Professor Mark Thomson experienced another learning opportunity made possible through an American Chemical Society grant. The grant allowed them to travel to the ACS Spring 2022 Special Session in San Diego.

“Being at a national meeting, especially attending without a direct supervisor, was a completely different experience for me,” Caitlin said. “Thankfully, going to the symposium kept me from feeling overwhelmed, though the pace and the personality of this conference was new and always interesting. I was also thankful to have my first experience visiting the west coast as part of the ACS event.”

Ewald said a 2021 summer internship with Perrigo, an international leader in private label over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, was a mix of new and known experiences.

“I chose to commute to Allegan from Big Rapids,” she said. “Many of the technical considerations of my internship were familiar, thanks to Ferris’ experiential learning methods. What I learned in Bill Killian’s classes and my time spent in research activities gave me a boost of confidence. Perrigo had me go through an extended training exercise, which meant reviewing known and practiced concepts. I had a good experience as a quality control lab technician, working with products containing Ibuprofen among some great people, so that was a positive result. It also assured me I would work to define my career in research opportunities, rather than begin in a technical role related to product assurance.”

Ewald has brought her experiences in the classroom, research laboratories and societies, and industry to Structured Learning Assistance as a facilitator. She works with Ferris students in Quantitative Analysis courses each fall semester and those in the first section of General Chemistry during spring semesters.

“There are a couple of workshops each week of the semester,” Ewald said. “That means I have been responsible for supporting these students in basic instructional elements during that time while serving as an assistant in their lab sessions.”

She taught a lab in high-performance liquid chromatography as part of the SLA work with Quantitative Analysis students.

“I have noticed that this group holds a greater understanding of the material,” Ewald said. “It is difficult content, which makes it very appropriate as a subject for Structured Learning Assistance sessions.”

Chemistry students come in with a wide variety of exposure to the material, so we begin with the basics and build up the group’s knowledge level. Leading these sessions allowed me to understand how important it was to work from the most elementary points so that we could support their success in learning.

With Caitlin’s coursework through dual enrollment applied to completing the requirements for an Industrial Chemistry degree in three years, she is ready to continue her learning journey in graduate school.

“I applied to and was accepted at three schools, with my choice being Michigan State,” Ewald said. “Their Department of Chemistry offers a Ph.D. curriculum, so I head there to be accepted in the industry as a research chemist. My pharmaceutical experiences, including my internship, were helpful but do not necessarily shape my determinations as to my future pursuits.”

Heading to commencement, Ewald has bittersweet emotions as she ponders her past and looks to her future prospects.

“I really love Ferris, especially the people I have worked with and studied with here,” Ewald said. “Being in Industrial Chemistry, there has been a great spirit of collaboration among the students completing their degrees. We know we will be branching off to our respective graduate schools, or first jobs out of Ferris, so that is something to definitely get used to.”

Following three years of heightened activity, deeply involved in her studies, research and work with Structured Learning Assistance for the College of Arts, Sciences and Education, Caitlin is pleased to be taking a bit of time for herself.

“It is a strange thought and circumstance to be packing up to leave, knowing I will not be back on campus in Big Rapids in the fall,” Ewald said. “I was away from campus during Grad Fair. So I went to the dean’s office to pick up my Summa Cum Laude cord. This will be my first summer off in quite a while. I have chosen to relax ahead of beginning graduate school. I am looking forward to it. As I get my degree, I know there will be plenty of great memories added to my Ferris experience, feeling fully prepared for more coursework and lab time.”

Spring 2022 commencement ceremonies take place Friday and Saturday, May 6-7, on the Big Rapids campus.