Focus on faculty: Vivian Feng

by Betsey Norgard

The first semester she began college, assistant professor Vivian Feng found herself in a chemistry lab doing research. “That’s what kept me in chemistry,” she says. “I had an excellent mentor who taught me so much—of chemistry and life—and that’s what a liberal arts education offers.”

After finishing her doctorate, Feng found her dream job, teaching at the University of Puget Sound, another small, liberal arts college. But, she ended up moving to Texas where her husband found work, and she began teaching at University of Texas, Austin.

“Luckily, I got a position at UT that mimicked a small college environment,” Feng says, introducing first- and second-year students to research skills and lab experience. She says she was able to mentor some great students, but the overall large university atmosphere wasn’t her goal. A new job search brought both her and her husband to the Twin Cities.

And Augsburg seems a perfect fit. “It’s liberal arts, and seeing the way faculty and students interact is just what I’ve missed.” That interaction benefits both. For students, Feng says, “it’s important that you teach something through the research experience. For her, “it’s intellectually challenging and keeps me updated in the research field.”

This summer Feng received a faculty-student team research fellowship from the University of Minnesota. She and a student, sophomore Casey Ernst, collaborate with a material chemist and several graduate students at the university.

Their project involves creating a new type of magnetic nanoparticle that could be used in pharmaceuticals, for example, to target the delivery of chemotherapy drugs to specific sites. The collaboration gives Feng access to equipment and facilities Augsburg can’t afford, and Ernst can work closely with both Feng and graduate students.

“Casey is thinking about graduate school, so this chance to work side-by-side with graduate students helps her find out early if this is right for her,” Feng says.

With Professor Arlin Gyberg, Feng also co-advises another student’s summer research in biodiesel fuels, introducing Feng to current research in this field and Augsburg’s collaboration with SarTec Corporation.

Feng looks forward in the fall to team-teaching the natural sciences keystone course, the final seminar for seniors that reflects on how science connects with faith, vocation, ethics, and society. “I enjoy getting to know students from a different angle. The course helps prepare them for dealing with controversial issues in society related to science,” she says.

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