The Charger Blog

University’s Chemistry Programs Lauded for Value, Exceptional Student Opportunities

The University’s graduate and undergraduate chemistry programs have not only been highly ranked by leading college rankings websites, they’ve also been praised by students and alumni who have excelled in the classroom, in the laboratory, and after earning their degrees.

August 15, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Students studying chemistry at the University of New Haven
Students studying chemistry at the University of New Haven enjoy a wide range of hands-on experiences in the laboratory.

When Michael Orsini ’19, ’21 M.S. decided to pursue his master’s degree in chemistry, he had his sights set on more than just earning the degree. He wanted to gain hands-on experience in the laboratory. He was excited that, as a Charger, he’d be able to jump right into research – even before the start of his first semester.

Orsini gained the lab experience he’d hoped for, working in newly-renovated facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. He enjoyed learning in a collaborative and supportive environment, in small classes that enabled students to get to know each other, form close relationships, and support each other’s research.

While working under the mentorship of Dequan Xiao, Ph.D., director of the University’s Center for Integrative Materials, Orsini tested catalysts to degrade lignin samples for biofuels. He collaborated with research groups at three other universities, including Yale, to analyze and discuss the method used to degrade the lignin. Orsini’s name was included on two published papers, including as the co-author of one of them.

“I really liked research due to my ability to grow in the lab and to really solidify that chemistry was the field that I wanted to work in,” explains Orsini, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in forensic science from the University. “The ability to be able to plan and run the experiment, analyze the results, and write a paper about it is something that not every master’s program can promise, but I was able to do this during my time at the University.”

‘Help students to find their own passion’

Meaningful educational experiences such as Orsini’s have gained widespread recognition for the University’s chemistry programs. Course Advisor, a website that provides information about higher-education programs and careers for students and faculty, ranked the University’s graduate program in chemistry second in New England for “best value.” The website assessed students’ experiences and the value of the education offered for the program cost.

“Our chemistry graduate students take three semesters of chemistry seminars so they learn the state-of-the-art developments of chemistry in academia or industry, and they network with professionals,” said Dr. Xiao, chair of the University’s chemistry department.

“In addition, we’ve established relationships with local industry partners to provide internships and field-trip opportunities, including with Green Fuel and Pfizer,” he continued. “These opportunities help students to find their own passion in specific areas in chemistry and to start to plan for their careers.”

‘Prepared me to be a skilled researcher’

In addition, Dr. Xiao says the faculty have secured more than $3 million over the past five years from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, creating important opportunities for students to conduct research and engage in other important educational activities for students that allow them to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom.

Amanda Sensi ’20, ’21 M.S. enjoyed the variety of the courses offered as part of the chemistry master’s program, including computational chemistry and pharmacology and medicinal chemistry. She considers the connections she made with her professors and their unwavering support to be among the most meaningful experiences she had as a graduate student.

Amanda Sensi ’20, ’21 M.S. presents her research at a new student orientation.
Amanda Sensi ’20, ’21 M.S. presents her research at a new student orientation.

Sensi, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, enjoyed the opportunities she had to build her skills outside the classroom – skills she continues to draw on. Through her internship with the Connecticut NASA Space Grant Consortium at New England Discovery Partners, and as a peer tutor in the University’s Center for Learning Resources (CLR), she grew as both a mentee and a mentor. Now a candidate in the organic chemistry doctorate program at the University of Delaware, she continues to mentor chemistry students, and she is considering a career in higher education.

“My time at the University of New Haven has prepared me to be a skilled researcher in many different aspects,” she said. “The hands-on experiences in teaching labs starting from organic chemistry to instrumental methods have been crucial to the development of the most basic of skills. Those countless hours in the lab helped me get to where I am today as a student and a researcher. The invaluable advisement I received was very instrumental as to how I chose my career path and where I am today.”

‘One of the best and most well-developed programs’

The program has offered rewarding opportunities for domestic and international students alike. Tarek Ibrahim ’23 M.S., ’26 Ph.D., immersed himself in research as a chemistry graduate student.

While working under the mentorship of Hao Sun, Ph.D., in his Sun Research Lab, Ibrahim explored developing recyclable and biodegradable polymers to help address the problem of plastic pollution. He also worked with Dr. Xiao to develop catalysts for hydrogenation and dehydrogenation reactions for hydrogen energy, and with Chong Qiu, Ph.D., on a ballooning project that focuses on air quality and ozone levels.

Tarek Ibrahim ’23 M.S., ’26 Ph.D.
Tarek Ibrahim ’23 M.S., ’26 Ph.D.

Ibrahim says his time at the University fueled his passion for chemistry while also giving him a sense of community and belonging. It was also a chance for him to grow as a researcher, as he published his first paper, and he has two more now in the review process.

“This is one of the best and most well-developed programs, integrating academic knowledge with practical experience that any student will definitely need in the competitive market,” said Ibrahim, who hails from Egypt. “The program's curriculum spans a diverse array of scientific disciplines, ensuring a well-rounded education. I soon found my home in the chemistry department and in the lab of Dr. Sun, and when I began researching with him, I quickly realized that a two-year master’s degree was not enough. I wanted to stay engaged with the lab and my research, which led me to decide to pursue my Ph.D. at the University.”

‘Solving real problems’

Sean Allen ’23, ’24 M.S., discovered his passion for chemistry as a forensic science major. Through the University’s 4+1 program, he’s looking forward to beginning his master’s degree in chemistry this fall. He’s excited to gain experience as a physical chemistry lab assistant, and to continuing to serve as a physical chemistry learning assistant in the CLR, as well as a leader of the University’s American Chemical Society recognized student organization.

“Throughout my four undergrad years, I've taken my fair share of chemistry courses, and I fell in love with the field,” he said. “I became invested in research opportunities with some of the faculty, so the 4+1 program made perfect sense for my life path.”

Sean Allen ’23, ’24 M.S.
Sean Allen ’23, ’24 M.S., a candidate in the University’s graduate program in chemistry, also graduated with his bachelor’s degree in forensic science.

Exploring a variety of disciplines within the chemistry field and the opportunities for research are important for students, says Dr. Xiao. He hopes they build their knowledge and skills in theoretical, computational, and experimental chemistry so that they can address real-world challenges in areas such as sustainability, medicine, and artificial intelligence sciences. He says Chargers are particularly well-equipped to excel when they graduate.

“In 2018, we established the first chemistry master’s program in the country that uses a well-designed integrative approach in curriculum for student training,” he said. “After the training, the students have shown the competency and competitiveness for solving real problems in industry or academia. This integrative approach is now extended into the undergraduate chemistry curriculum.”

‘Pursuing a career in chemistry’

Undergraduate chemistry majors also enjoy opportunities to explore, research, and make important connections. The website Plexuss ranked the University among the top chemistry schools in Connecticut for undergraduate students, examining factors such as program popularity and student retention rates.

Luci Sweet ’25, ’26 M.S., a chemistry major who also plans to pursue her master’s degree in chemistry as part of the University’s dual degree program, says her education has, so far, been invaluable. She studied abroad during the spring 2023 semester, and this summer, she’s completing an internship at a wastewater treatment plant where she is learning about the important role chemistry plays in transforming wastewater into clean water.

Luci Sweet ’25, ’26 M.S. in the laboratory.
Luci Sweet ’25, ’26 M.S. in the laboratory.

“What I've liked the most about the chemistry program is how helpful the faculty are, and I really enjoy how fun the professors make the lectures and labs,” she said. “Because the University has small class sizes, I have felt more comfortable and more encouraged to ask questions and to seek help. The University has definitely helped me gain the confidence, allowing me to get a valuable education.”

For Orsini, a graduate of the master’s program in chemistry, his education has helped prepare him to excel as an application chemist for the electronics company MacDermid Alpha’s Final Finish Group. He works with final finishes and upscales products to prepare them for the field and, ultimately, for customers. His position has enabled him to travel and to play an integral role in testing products in a production setting in the company’s pilot line.

“The University’s chemistry program solidified my choice of becoming a chemist and pursuing a career in chemistry,” he said. “The professors that I had were all really open to having conversations in class, not only about the material, but also about the future and what to expect when jumping into a career or Ph.D. program.”