BY LAURA SWANSON
During the 2011 Agre Symposium at Augsburg College, Kirubel Frew ’14 was apprehensive in introducing himself to Peter Agre ’70—the 2003 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. But the conversation between the Auggie and one of the College’s most notable alumni proved to be the first discussion of many.
“I happened to mention that I was from Zimbabwe,” Frew recalled. “[Agre] said, ‘Zim? Zim? I love Zim. It’s a beautiful country. I believe Zimbabwe will have a scientific boom within the next decade.’”
As an international student, Frew selected Augsburg because of its well-respected science programs and its welcoming staff, which he identified during his college application process. Today he recognizes that the warmth of the Augsburg community extends beyond campus to its alumni network.
That’s because what began as a simple chat between Agre and Frew regarding their ties to Zimbabwe matured into a bond through which the Nobel laureate has shaped the career aspirations of one of the College’s standout third-year chemists.
Frew views Agre’s ability to operate a research lab, speak to audiences around the globe, and inspire young scientists as ‘a dream job’ and a goal he could not have identified without studying at Augsburg.
“Years ago, I wouldn’t have believed all this was possible,” Frew said. “Meeting a Nobel laureate in chemistry is awesome, and being mentored by him is even more awesome.”
This mentorship began when Agre invited Frew to conduct research at the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute during summer 2012 and to attend the Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany, an exclusive annual event that brings together several dozen chemistry and physics laureates and an equal number of student guests.
Frew was a fitting choice for these life-changing opportunities because he developed the critical thinking skills that high-level research requires during the summer after his first year at Augsburg. He participated in a 10-week faculty-led research program through the College’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity (URGO).
“Research is so unscripted and there are so many turns,” said assistant professor of chemistry Z. Vivian Feng, one of Frew’s faculty advisers.
Feng presented Frew with the opportunity to conduct a complex proof-of-concept project in which he could demonstrate the feasibility of making a bench-top reactor, a small instrument tied to revolutionary biodiesel experimentation conducted by Augsburg alumnus and businessman Clayton McNeff ’91, chemistry professor emeritus Arlin Gyberg, and Augsburg’s first Rhodes Scholar Brian Krohn ’08.
Feng said she knew the research project would be challenging for Frew given his limited experience in the chemistry lab, but she also believed it suited his background in physics and interest in engineering. Frew was determined to independently achieve his goal of modifying the reactor design using his creativity, ingenuity, and knack for problem solving.
Frew said his experiences on the Augsburg campus and around the globe have proven so inspiring that he now is determined to continue his science education and align his career path to his vocation.
Dixie Shafer, URGO director, sees this objective as a near-perfect fit. She said that from Frew’s first days of research at Augsburg, he has demonstrated a gift for explaining complex scientific processes in terms that an interdisciplinary audience can understand.
“He sees communication as one of his life-long missions,” Shafer explained. “He may become a serious scientist and work on issues that are related to policy—realizing that too many people in policy don’t know the science and too many scientists have difficulty communicating with the non-science community … he’d love to be doing what Peter Agre does.”
Frew cites Agre’s hard work and intellect as key components in the Nobel laureate’s career success, and the young Auggie is on track to take his Augsburg education to the next level with his own tenacity. Students and alumni from Augsburg’s science and mathematics departments commonly go on to conduct research, attend graduate school, and accept employment at some of the nation’s leading research institutions including Cornell University, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, Johns Hopkins University, and Yale University, among others.
Augsburg is a place for young scientists like Frew to set dreams for the future and lay the educational foundation on which to achieve them.
As spring turns to summer, life on a college campus typically quiets. But for a select group of undergraduate researchers, the summer months are anything but slow. From May to August, Augsburg students perform faculty-led research in the sciences, humanities, and fine arts. Their work is supported by funding from Augsburg’s Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity (URGO) program, the McNair Scholars program, the Sundquist Scholars program, the Northstar STEM Alliance, a NASA Space Physics grant, and the National Science Foundation.
Go to Augsburg’s YouTube channel to watch audio slide shows featuring Essenburg, Cantrall, and other summer researchers