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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 students were working with Waxman 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."
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.
Working with photovoltaics
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. Today he's working under the direction of world-famous chemist Jean Frechet on a project to develop cheap, organic-basic photovoltaics to produce electricity using solar power.
Beginning medical residency
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 the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. After that he plans to pursue a fellowship to study cardiology, hematology and oncology, or infectious disease.
Found advantages at UW-Superior
At 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."
Both students also had an opportunity to gain research experience by working with Waxman on his research into surface light-induced drift. The students took part in a research presentation at the American Chemical Society's national conference.
Professors helped him
Hafdahl, who's originally from Virginia, Minn., said his professors helped him choose a career path in science. They also enabled him to gain experience in research and land an internship.
"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.
Read more Superior Alumni profiles.
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