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University Honors thesis today, Yale tomorrow

| Sydney Schoeberle

With a passion for chemistry, senior Clorice Reinhardt has taken advantage of many of the research opportunities the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has to offer—including writing the second-ever University Honors thesis at UW-Eau Claire.  Reinhardt will now take that passion to Yale University in the fall as a graduate student.

Reinhardt, a biochemistry/molecular biology comprehensive major, wrote her senior Honors thesis in conjunction with the University Honors Program and the chemistry department.  Entitled Studies of Hydride Transfer Reactions in Quinone Reductases, Reinhardt’s thesis seeks to further analyze how enzymes catalyze redox reactions.

“This thesis aims to provide an unfiltered view of quinone reductase chemistry, from the fine physical forces that shape the active site to a global picture with analysis of critical protein motion,” Reinhardt says.  Under the direction of Dr. Sudeep Bhattacharyay and Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch, this study could be applied to cancer research.

Reinhardt has always loved chemistry, but she was interested to see how it was applied in the body and how chemical processes work in that setting.  She considers herself a computational biochemist, and used a variety of computational approaches to study enzyme dynamics. 

Reinhardt views this thesis as a compilation of everything she has accomplished at UW-Eau Claire.  Referring to the finished product of more than 100 pages as her “baby,” Reinhardt says “this was a great way to tie all of my undergraduate research together, and it gave me a little bit of closure.”

When she stepped on campus as a first year student, Reinhardt did not have any idea just how many research opportunities were available for undergraduate students.  She was surprised to stumble upon her first research opportunity in Honors Chemical Principles and has never looked back.

“UW-Eau Claire and Honors foster these amazing opportunities for undergraduate students, and offer the opportunities of a huge university but on a personal level,” Reinhardt says.  “I can walk through my department and everyone will know me.”

This personalized learning environment has made Reinhardt a huge research proponent for UW-Eau Claire.

“I love that we pride ourselves on this; it’s amazing that at this smaller school we can push toward that level of excellence.”

Reinhardt will be pursuing a PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry at Yale University in the fall.  Reinhardt has the opportunity to work in biochemistry labs, doing comparable research to what is discussed in her Honors thesis.

“I would like to specialize in and aspire to continue my work developing computational drug screening suites in a graduate setting,” Reinhardt says.  “I have a passion for what I do now, so I would be happy to work on something similar but on a larger level.  I’m looking forward to doing more of what I love; focusing on teaching and research, and having free reign to explore the things that drive me on such a deep level.”

Beyond her research, Reinhardt has become a mentor and an advocate for students who do not realize these opportunities are even available to them.  Reinhardt says “a large demographic of high school students are completely unaware that they have potential to do research and get a PhD, while receiving support which they may not receive at home.”

A first generation college student from Pepin, a village in rural western Wisconsin, Reinhardt had no idea she could ever get a degree like this.  She hopes to break that barrier for other high school students.  Reinhardt has given classroom presentations in her high school, and local Eau Claire area high schools, to spread her message and get students excited about science and education in general.

“Many students either don’t know how to go about this, or don’t know anyone who’s done anything like this,” Reinhardt says.  “I want them to know that pursuing education should not be limited to the place they’re from or the connections they’ve made.”

“I want to continue to be an advocate for women and minorities in STEM,” says Reinhardt.  She hopes to continue this sort of work while she studies at Yale, sharing her inspirational story in classrooms on the East coast.

Promoting this message that anything is possible if you are passionate and set your mind to it, Reinhardt encourages other students to make the most of their college careers, and embark on challenges like writing a University Honors senior thesis.

“I would recommend more people to do it…It’s a lot of work and there are some really challenging weeks along the way, but people are capable of so much more than they think.”

Reinhardt successfully defended her thesis on Monday, May 8, and is now looking forward to graduation.