STEM@PSC Program Gives Chemistry Student Opportunity to Thrive [3/19/14]

Prairie State College (PSC) student Daniel Eichler tried the traditional path to higher education. The 2007 Marian Catholic Academy graduate actually spent one year enrolled at Eastern Illinois University studying chemistry right after high school. But, after that year, he began to question the path he was on.

Dan Eichler “After accumulating thousands of dollars in debt, I figured there had to be a better alternative,” he said.

So, he got a full-time job, saved money, and reevaluated his plans for a couple years before starting school again at PSC.

The computer enthusiast, who builds computers as a hobby, started pursing a computer science degree when he first started at PSC.

“It was then that I met Professor Medhat Shaibat, and he rekindled my passion for chemistry,” he said, which is why he decided to return to his original plan and study chemistry.

Eichler has thrived in the area ever since. In fact, he was handpicked by Shaibat to participate in a research project characterizing metal bonding to amino acids using spectroscopy.

“There is research that shows that metal such as copper bonded to amino acids pose multiple functions including anticancer activity,” he said. “Basically, we are trying to make crystals and want to prove that we made a certain chemical.”

To find out, the students spend, on average, three hours a week in the chemistry lab making and testing the crystals using various tools, including UV testing, FTIR measurements, and testing NMR spectra on an NMR machine they are allowed to use on Governors State University’s campus.

“This project really is a gift, because not many undergraduate students get to do research,” Eichler said. “I find it astounding that there is a research project like this being conducted at a community college like Prairie State,” he said. “The project is a great opportunity for me because I am learning better lab techniques, fine tuning my skills, developing critical thinking skills, and gaining experience using various lab tools,” he added. “This project is really helping me prepare for my future career.”

Eichler said his ultimate career goal would be as an analytical research chemist. “In the lab, you’re taking the knowledge that you got in class and applying it, and that is just fascinating to me. It’s like solving a puzzle. You don’t know what it’s going to look like, but you just keep working at it and working at it, and the pieces just start falling together.”

After graduating in May 2014 with his associate degree in chemistry, he hopes to transfer to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he will earn his bachelor’s and eventually a Ph.D. degree in chemistry. He completed his associate degree in business in May 2013.

Eichler says he probably wouldn’t have had the same college experience he’s had without the STEM@PSC program.

“It’s one thing to go to a community college and just take classes, but it’s a completely different experience when you actually have people who are teaching you and pushing you further,” he said. “The one thing I notice about the STEM professors here is that they really do challenge their students,” he said. “After taking my STEM classes at PSC, I’m ready to go to any college to finish my degree,” he added.

Eichler is passing his knowledge on to his fellow PSC students through the STEM@PSC Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) program, where he is a PLTL leader for a chemistry class he took during a previous semester at PSC. He works with the current students in the class on problem solving techniques using old test questions. He says that it’s these group interactions and networking through the STEM program that is helping the students succeed in these challenging courses.

“Since we are all in the same fields, you see these people in your classes and as PLTL leaders. These are people you become comfortable with. It’s second nature to just sit down and do work with them,” he said. “Everyone has a different view. I might see a problem, and think I should solve it one way. Somebody else has a different opinion on how to solve it. So, we can help each other. We can guide each other,” he added.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Any student pursuing an Associate in Science (A.S.) degree at PSC is considered a STEM student. STEM students have some of the most demanding academic careers, but also some of the most rewarding professional careers.  STEM@PSC is dedicated to student success by building a supportive learning community, beginning with first-year students, and guiding them throughout degree completion and the transfer process. For more information on STEM@PSC, call (708) 709-7956 or email STEM@prairiestate.edu