KENNESAW, Ga. | Jan 9, 2024
The combination of a high school English essay assignment, a love of science and having an aunt who is a scientist led Ra’Nya Malone to major in biochemistry at Kennesaw State University.
For that high school essay assignment, Malone needed to interview someone in a career that interested her. She always admired her aunt, Sparkle Malone, who earned her doctorate in environmental science from the University of Alabama. When Ra’Nya asked her for a recommendation, the elder Malone recommended her former classmate, KSU’s assistant professor of chemistry Carl Saint-Louis.
That conversation led to Ra’Nya enrolling in KSU, and in just three semesters, she has already made an impact. She joined Saint-Louis’ laboratory her first semester, she has co-authored a published paper in a prestigious journal, she spent summer 2023 in a National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates, and she has presented her research at KSU’s Symposium of Student Scholars.
“There are so many opportunities here at Kennesaw State, and I want to take advantage of them,” she said. “I feel like I’ve found a home in Dr. Saint-Louis’ lab and here at KSU.”
Saint-Louis pointed out several traits Malone has that make her a brilliant addition to the undergraduate and graduate students working in his group.
“She’s incredibly curious, very humble, a very hard worker, and she’s a leader now,” Saint-Louis said. “Now that other chemistry students have seen an underclassman have success in the lab, I have other freshmen and sophomores seeking opportunities.”
Those opportunities extend beyond the College of Science and Mathematics complex on KSU’s campus. Malone conducted research in fluorescent spectroscopy, which is the process by which the chemicals that infuse LED screens are made, in the Saint-Louis lab. Positive results from that research helped Saint-Louis’ own work, and the professor presented the study at a conference at Georgia State University.
In attendance at the conference was Tomoyasu Mani, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Connecticut who hosts undergraduate researchers each summer under a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). Impressed with the research, Mani encouraged Saint-Louis to persuade Malone to apply for the experience.
Months later, Saint-Louis gave a chemistry presentation at Alabama, hosted by professor of chemistry Ryan Summers—presenting Malone’s research and again impressing a scientist with a research opportunity. Ultimately, Malone had two summer REU opportunities, and spent Summer 2023 at UConn for 10 weeks, working on Mani’s research and learning more about how a laboratory works.
“To my knowledge she is the first KSU freshman to have a single funded REU opportunity let alone two,” Saint-Louis said. “And she was part of a cohort of five students out of hundreds who applied. These opportunities are usually reserved for upperclassmen, so what she has already accomplished is truly impressive.”
Malone admitted she felt a little overwhelmed at first in the UConn lab, but she channeled her curiosity and absorbed as much information as she could. Her task involved synthesizing molecules for studies in physical chemistry, which she has applied to her ongoing work in the Saint-Louis lab.
Malone said chemistry just made sense to her the first time she encountered it in high school. After chatting initially with Saint-Louis, she knew she wanted to make it her academic focus at Kennesaw State. Now, she sees even more chemistry in her future—another REU this summer and next, a Ph.D. after graduation in 2026, and a career in pharmaceuticals.
“Chemistry is important to me because it’s a subject that resonates with my curiosity about the world,” she said. “The applications of chemistry are everywhere, from the pharmaceuticals that improve our health to the materials shaping our daily environment. I see chemistry as not just a subject of study but a key to unlocking solutions and making a positive impact on the world around us.”
– By Dave Shelles
Photos by Matt Yung
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.