As a high school student, Dr. Sophia Kwon Lunt ’05 knew that she
wanted to go to college to study chemistry and that she would need a
scholarship to do it. Her parents had immigrated to the United States when she
was in fourth grade, and they were doing their best to give her a better life,
but without that scholarship, college was out of the question. Fortunately, LVC
was able to offer Lunt the financial aid she needed—and the chemistry major has
gone on to do the Valley proud several times over.
In her senior year at the
Valley, Lunt was one of only four national winners of an undergraduate research
competition held at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry
and Molecular Biology. Further amplifying LVC’s excellence in the sciences,
classmate Jordan Newell ’05 was one
of the other three winners. Lunt also won the College’s Howard Anthony Neidig
Award that year, recognizing her as the top student graduating in 2005.
After leaving LVC, Lunt
completed a doctorate in chemistry at Princeton University and a postdoctoral
fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today, she’s a postdoctoral
research associate studying cancer metabolism at Michigan State University, and
she already is an author on nine research papers—one of which was featured on
the cover of the journal “Nature Chemical Biology.”
How did you acquire your
I was always competitive growing up and consistently a top student.
Then, at the age of 9, I was seriously challenged when my parents moved the
family to the United States from South Korea. I went from being the smartest
student in the class to someone who had trouble understanding because I did not
speak English. However, within two years, I won the top student award in every
I knew that my education could only continue through scholarships due
to my family’s limited finances and lack of U.S. citizenship, so there was a
real sense of survival. I was always competitive, but mixing that with the need
to survive made me really
What motivates you?
The need for financial survival is no longer a major factor, but I am
still motivated by a desire to succeed. I want to have a career that is both
challenging and rewarding. I am often motivated by inspiring scientific
discoveries, as well as by colleagues and students whose, enthusiasm and
excitement for research can be contagious. I love being engaged—sometimes I
come to work and attend a stimulating seminar or have a great conversation with
a colleague, and I feel very fortunate that I can be a part of the research
What activities, people, or
courses at LVC helped you prepare for success?
LVC has fantastic science professors—they all came from competitive
Ph.D. programs, and they pushed me to succeed. They gave me many opportunities
by taking me to national science meetings and making sure I participated in
undergraduate research presentation competitions. At the first national
conference I attended, I was intimated by students from top universities, but I
soon realized that my research was competitive with theirs. It was the
one-on-one mentoring and dedication I received from my professors that helped
me stand out.
How has global competition
changed your field?
In the biomedical field there are ever-increasing numbers of
researchers coupled with a decreasing level of funding that is raising the bar
higher for pursuing research. The U.S. is going in the wrong direction when it
comes to investing in fundamental research while other countries are rapidly
increasing efforts in this area. This is not good—we need to continue investing
in research if we want to remain competitive as a top nation.
What’s most important to remain
competitive in your field?
Perseverance. Research constantly knocks you down, and you have to
remember to get back up. It involves chasing the unknown, all while competing
for extremely competitive research grants. The key is to never give up.
How do you prepare physically
and mentally for competition?
I stay positive, learn as much as I can, and practice, practice,
Who is your favorite competitive
My current role model is my husband, an extremely successful professor
at Michigan State University and a co-founder of a company. I think his secrets
to success are optimism, perseverance, and hard work. He is ready with a pep
talk whenever I need it—most likely another reason why I never give up!
Do you have a guiding philosophy
can be healthy, but it
can also be destructive since there is always someone who is better than you. It
is important to keep perspective while being competitive, and set goals for
yourself. Instead of measuring yourself against everyone else's
achievements, you should measure yourself against your own goals and
Which leaders inspire you? Why?
There are many aspects of Michelle Obama that I admire. She is an
active, strong woman who had a career of her own while being a wife and mother.
She is an advocate for leading a balanced life with healthy eating choices and
exercising. I also strive for balance and try to lead a healthy lifestyle.
What makes LVC competitive?
Lebanon Valley provides excellent merit-based scholarships, access to
dedicated professors, participation in national meetings, and encouragement. I
truly benefited from all of these wonderful resources while I was a student at
What advice would you give to
current LVC students?
Take advantage of opportunities, whether they are internship
opportunities or research in the lab. These experiences can provide invaluable
lessons and future opportunities: they allow you to think about the long term,
to interact with different people and network, and gain additional perspective,
not out of a textbook but in the real world.