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Graduates use UW-Superior's chemistry major to launch successful careers

Posted on Jan 25, 2011
Two Class of 2006 chemistry majors are embarking on successful careers using their UW-Superior education as a foundation.
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Luke Hafdahl, left, and Jeremy Niskala, right, flank Dr. Michael Waxman as they display their research work at American Chemical Society research conference while UW-Superior students.

Luke Hafdahl, left, and Jeremy Niskala, right, flank Dr. Michael Waxman as they display their research work at American Chemical Society research conference while UW-Superior students.

Chemistry professor Dr. Michael Waxman calls them his "class of two," referring to the time several years ago when he had only two students in his physical chemistry class: Luke Hafdahl and Jeremy Niskala.

The three were working on a research project that centered on a page-long algebraic expression. To move ahead, they needed to prove the expression was always less than zero.

A few days later, Niskala returned to class with 100 pages of meticulously collected computer data showing the expression was always negative. Hafdahl returned with a single sheet of paper, on which he had reduced the one-page expression to a quarter page, clearly showing  the expression was always negative.

"That gave me an idea as to the working style of these two students," Waxman said. "I think it reflects the strengths that will benefit them in their career fields."

Outstanding student off to outstanding careers

Today, both Niskala and Hafdahl are well on their way to successful careers, and both credit UW-Superior for helping them build the foundation of that success.

After graduating in 2006 with majors in chemistry and mathematics, Niskala was admitted to a doctorate program at the University of North Carolina. After earning his degree there, he began working as a post-doctorate fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. There he works under the direction of world-famous chemist Jean Frechet on a project to develop cheap, organic-basic photovoltaics to produce electricity using solar power.

Hafdahl, who also majored in chemistry, took the Medical College Admission Test after graduating in 2006 and scored well above the average for students at Harvard Medical School. That earned him a spot at the University of Minnesota Medical School, where he's earned honors for achievement. After he graduates in April 2011, Hafdahl will pursue a three-year internal medicine residency at a hospital in the Twin Cities or at the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. After that he plans to pursue a fellowship to study cardiology, hematology and oncology, or infectious disease.

UW-Superior offered better opportunities

In choosing to attend UW-Superior, Niskala, a native of Ely, Minn., found he had better opportunities than other schools where he would have faced higher tuition or bigger classes.

"I had a number of advanced chemistry and physics courses with under 10 students," he said. "In this situation I was able to interact very closely with the instructors, allowing me and the rest of the students to pick their brains for everything they know. You can't beat such an intimate learning environment. With all that said, to me it was a 'no brainer' to go to UW-Superior. Later, I found out I had been awarded a Swenson Scholarship (available to qualifying science students for four years of tuition and books), which was an added bonus."

Professors took time to help him

Hafdahl, who's originally from Virginia, Minn., said his professors helped him choose a career path in science.

"My research experience at UW-Superior ingrained in me the skills of scientific inquiry," he said. "While I was always taught the scientific process, this experience allowed me to literally perform science, which is something you can only learn by doing."

He's grateful to the many faculty members who made an impact on his education and helped guide him. "All of these experiences I feel are a reflection of how the class sizes at UW-Superior allow professors to get to know every student and recognize their strengths," he said.

News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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