Recent Chemistry Degree Graduate Scores Role as Bioprocess Technician
John Marhefka recognizes that he is an anomaly.
“I like to talk a lot and I’m a scientist,” he explained.
This realization led Marhefka, one of the first-ever Grace College chemistry graduates, down a long road of questions his senior year of college. Questions like, “What can you do with a chemistry major?” and “Are there jobs in my area for chemistry?”
Marhefka’s plan from the beginning was to become a chemistry professor — a good way to put his love for science and speaking to use. But three years into his bachelor of science in chemistry, he decided he needed a break from school. So he switched gears and began to search for other chemistry-related jobs.
In Marhefka’s final semester, (October of 2019), he started to feel the pressure. Unsure of which direction to go, he reached out to his advisor, Dr. Frentzel, director of the Department of Math and Science. Frentzel mentioned a company called EKF Life Sciences, a company which utilizes bacterial fermentation and downstream processes to isolate and deliver high quality enzymes and biomolecules specially engineered to its customers’ specifications.
Interested with the lead in Elkhart, Indiana, and anxious to get into the field, Marhefka reached out to inquire. To his surprise, he found they were looking to hire for a full-time position. Three weeks and a three-hour interview later, Marhefka landed a job as a Bioprocess Technician before even finishing his chemistry degree in his final semester at Grace.
“I’m very grateful to Dr. Frentzel for setting me up with that connection,” said Marhefka. “And it was so nice knowing that on the other side of graduation I had a job waiting for me.”
“As a Bioprocess Technician, I am involved in maintaining and operating the production of enzymes and proteins through the fermentation process. We throw bacteria into 1600 liter vat and grow it until it produces what we want in large quantities,” he explained in layman’s terms.
While the job opportunity scored by Marhefka reads a simple story, behind the scenes was a Grace College chemistry degree marked by three distinct hallmarks: a solid foundation of scientific understanding, ample research and presentation opportunities, and faculty connections.
A Foundation of Scientific Understanding
Marhefka was quick to explain that the classes required for his chemistry degree helped him get his job. “Biochemistry and Genetics with Dr. Roberts were so helpful,” he said. “Being able to pack a column and harvest enzymes helped me in my interview. I was able to talk about this process intelligently from the lab experiences in class. Without a shadow of a doubt, I was able to talk about what a ligand was. I was able to explain how enzymes are purified by sticking to a ligand. And I could extensively describe what purification is.”
He also pointed to his Organic Chemistry class with Dr. Snyder which improved his competency with scientific methods surrounding organic chemistry. Marhefka was not just in classes to obtain information. All along, he was being prepared for a career.
Research and Presentation Opportunities
The second hallmark of the Grace College chemistry degree was the chance to do research. Marhefka recounted his experience in the lab with Dr. Snyder and a group of his classmates when they discovered a new organic compound.
”Dr. Snyder had us do research to help him develop a process to synthesize a molecule. He had already synthesized it once, but he was seeking a safer way to do so. He came up with a theoretical pathway that went around the need for a deadly neurotoxin, and we helped him verify those paths and their yields,” he explained. “It was awesome and we loved it.”
Marhefka didn’t just conduct research, he got to present it. During Marhefka’s studies, Grace made annual trips to the Indiana Academy of Science (IAS), allowing students to present their original research, network with other chemistry professionals, and bolster their resumes. For the conference, Marhefka explained that students were encouraged to become members of the IAS as well as the ACS (American Chemical Society) — one of the biggest chemist societies in the world.
“These memberships are incredibly helpful resources. I recommend that all students take advantage of the $27 rates while you can!” said Marhefka.
Chemistry Degree – Faculty Connections
Finally, Marhefka expressed a deep well of gratitude for the faculty he connected with while at Grace. He enjoyed his professors so much that after he finished all of the classes required for his chemistry degree, he volunteered as a TA with Dr. Zhou.
“That’s just the way Grace is,” Marhefka began. “You build these relationships with faculty that are going to last. They have such a heart for teaching that they spend time with you and truly invest in you. It’s why several of my professors will be invited to my wedding, and it’s one of the best things about Grace College.”
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