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Running Toward the Next Chapter of Life

Garrett Santis excelled in the chemistry lab and as a runner at Lebanon Valley College

A strong emphasis on undergraduate research drew Garrett Santis ’20 to Lebanon Valley College’s Chemistry Program. He maximized those research opportunities, which fueled his interests in the field and prepared him for his career.

Next up, Santis accepted an offer to the Ph.D. program at the University of Washington to specialize in theoretical chemistry. Looking back on his undergrad experience, Santis knows he made the right choice and offers this advice for other students considering a career in chemistry.

“Do it at LVC. Many schools look appealing for chemistry,” he said. “It is easy to flash equipment and general outcomes to naive high-schoolers and convince them to enroll. LVC's experience is not superficial. The professors know your name. They will challenge you but will make sure you succeed if you put in the work.”

Santis, an ACS chemistry major, conducted much of his research in conjunction with and under the helpful mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Sterner, assistant professor of chemistry. After his first year, which included being accepted into the College’s Research First Program to start in the science labs the summer before school started, the pair collaborated on a project to develop a new type of surgical glove resistant to puncture.

“Dr. Sterner has been a great research adviser,” he said. “She taught me numerous research skills, including experimental design and dealing with failure. As an upper-level student, she gave me the freedom to investigate something I was interested in, in a way I was interested in, while making sure my research maintained academic rigor.”

Through his time at LVC, Santis benefited from the College’s prestigious Allwein Scholarship, which included full tuition and annual stipends toward educational purposes. As a junior, he invested the stipend to build a computing cluster, called Elenita, that he used in his senior research on computational chemistry. He first explored and learned about the topic through a Research Experience for Undergraduates at Duquesne University.

Santis even presented his research at the national Molecular Education and Research Consortium in Undergraduate Computational Chemistry last summer, one of his favorite college memories.

“LVC prepared me to be a professional, and I could see a stark comparison between my ability to network with peers and professors compared to those at other institutions,” he said. “I am still closely connected with professors and students from that conference, including two now close friends from California.”

While Santis excelled in his academics, he also completed a successful athletic career as a member of the cross country and men’s track & field teams. He earned numerous Middle Atlantic Conference All-Conference awards for cross country and MAC Academic Honor Roll accolades.

“More responsibilities make academics harder,” said Santis. “It was difficult to maintain research hours with a busy athletic schedule. However, these skills were crucial to my time-management development. Spending more time in the lab or classroom may have marginally helped my grades, but pales in comparison to the important professional skills gained by athletic involvement.”

Teamwork is another skill he gained noted Santis as he recalled another of his favorite LVC memories. 

“The road trip to Louisville, Ky., to cheer my cross country teammates on at NCAA nationals was extremely cool—to travel together, on a budget, to do something my friends and I wanted to do. That  trip was when I first felt like an adult.”