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LVC Science Program Helped Her Stand Out: A Q&A with Dr. Sophia Kwon Lunt ’05
04.01.14 |

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 competitive spirit?

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 subject.

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 competitive.

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 community.

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, practice.

Who is your favorite competitive role model?

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 about competition?

Competition 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 resolutions.

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 LVC.

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.

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