Santa Clara University

Experimental Education

Michael Carrasco, second from left, in the chemistry lab with Oscar Silva, Katerine Rawls, and Morisol Sweeney.
Michael Carrasco, second from left, in the chemistry lab with Oscar Silva, Katerine Rawls, and Morisol Sweeney.
Chemistry Professor Michael Carrasco realized during his graduate studies at Columbia University that building a career that included teaching was important to him. But he also wanted to continue doing the kinds of organic chemistry research that he began as an undergraduate at Cal, a Research I school (the term for the nation’s most significant research-focused, Ph.D.-granting universities). “They take for granted that research is your goal, the right goal, and that you will follow in the footsteps of your faculty advisor,” Carrasco says. “I wanted to do both—teach and conduct research.”

 

Carraso’s search for a university that would allow him that option led to Santa Clara. Here, he has his own laboratory and undergraduate chemistry students who actively conduct lab research on the structures and potential uses of short polymer strings called peptides.

 

Carraso explains that peptides, created from amino acids, could be valuable as pharmaceuticals if researchers can develop ways to protect the structures so they will last longer in the body while delivering the same pharmacological effect.

 

Carrasco acknowledges that undergraduates do not perform Ph.D.-level research, but that does not faze him. Having done significant research while an undergraduate is a virtual guarantee of success in graduate school, he says. Students also will be particularly well prepared for medical school and for careers in industry and teaching.

 

“I’ve already published three papers with Santa Clara students as co-authors,” Carrasco says.

Atom Yee, the dean of the College of Arts and sciences and a chemistry professor, says Carrasco is “an emerging leader in his field of peptide and protein chemistry. The quality of his science is on par with programs of many faculty at research institutions as judged by his grants and publications.”

In addition, Yee notes that Carrasco is an expert on how to conduct research with undergraduates,

and is “a role model and mentor to many students, especially students of color.”

 

Carrasco points with special pride to a teaching/mentoring program for which, in 2002, he was awarded a multi-year grant by the National Science Foundation as part of its prestigious career program. The award cites Carrasco and other winners as young teacher-scholars who are the most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. The grant has enabled Carrasco, working with other faculty at SCU, to create a multicultural research environment on campus. With both scientific and personal mentoring at its core, the program he and fellow faculty member Ángel Islas in biology have dubbed De Novo performs special outreach to Latino students who, Carrasco says, sometimes do much better in the lab than in traditional classroom settings.

 

Carrasco regularly presents his research at national meetings of the American Chemical Society and the American Peptide Society. “Sometimes you get so focused on teaching, you have to give yourself permission to be away from it,” he admits.