SCU Names Two Beckman Scholars in 2021
Sophomores Ella Basler and Erica Svendahl will have the opportunity to conduct intricate and influential research on critical scientific topics as Santa Clara University’s two Beckman Scholars this year.
By Sarah Stoddard
Student research into polymers and plant proteins will be the focus of this year’s Beckman Scholarship recipients. Ella Basler ’23 (Biochemistry) and Erica Svendahl ’23 (Chemistry and Environmental Science) have been selected to participate in mentored research projects over the course of the next 15 months. Both Basler and Svendahl are Santa Clara students who have excelled academically, shown great skills in their chosen fields, and proved to be committed to scientific research that applies to global and medical health issues.
“This is an extraordinary scholarship and we have two extraordinary students who are both very deserving,” said Daniel Press, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at SCU. “It is rare to find an award of such distinction that supports and recognizes not just the potential but also the accomplishments of undergraduate STEM students.”
Ella Basler is a biochemistry major with a double minor in public health sciences and Spanish studies. Her research as a Beckman Scholar will focus on using light to synthesize and manipulate the shape of polymers. Historically, metal-catalyzed reactions have been used to do this. However, metal is highly toxic, even in low quantities, costly to use, and difficult to remove. Through this research in SCU’s Tillman Lab, Basler could help unlock a technique that doesn’t need toxic and expensive metal catalysts, which could also increase the polymer’s utility in biomedical applications.
Conducting research on a highly focused topic will not only allow Basler to grow her critical thinking skills, but will strengthen her in-depth analysis and help her learn “how to ask relevant questions, form and test hypotheses, and analyze data from the perspective of what can be improved,” she notes. “The expected outcomes of both the research and personal development will help me grow as a scientist and deepen my passion for contributing to the scientific community.”
Eric Tillman (Chemistry and Biochemistry), who will be Basler’s mentor during her experience as a Beckman Scholar, remarks that, “Ella is exceptionally strong, and compares favorably to the very best science students I have seen at this stage.” Basler’s performance in Tillman’s Organic Chemistry course this year was more than outstanding. “Ella has really impressed me with her ability to step right into my research group and have the confidence to ask probing questions and even take the lead on discussing research papers. She strives to thoroughly understand the material,” Tillman says.
Basler has been involved in several social justice-based projects that have helped communities in need. Along with her mom, she created Build Up, Eat Up, “a non-profit project to teach job skills to young adults with disabilities by creating meal kits for food insecure families,” she explains. She is also involved in Partners in Health Engage, an international healthcare organization. As a member of the Community Outreach Committee, Basler says she “presented to members on colonization of Sierra Leone and its impact on current maternal mortality rates.” In addition to being involved in social justice efforts in her hometown and on a global scale, Basler is also very active on campus. As a Peer Health Educator, she works with students individually, through presentations, and on social media to address common health concerns among college students. Recently, she has also been working as a COVID-19 Testing Assistant.
Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Basler wants to use her talents to serve women from marginalized communities by providing equal access to reproductive healthcare. After graduating, she plans to pursue her MD degree with the goal of becoming an OB/GYN.
Erica Svendahl, who is a chemistry and environmental science double major, is particularly interested in the fields of geochemistry, paleoclimatology, soil science, and nanotechnology. As a Beckman Scholar, Svendahl will lead a research project on plant proteomics in SCU’s Wheeler Lab. Her work will focus on identifying proteins present in the coating of nanoparticles. “We are aiming to learn more about how nanoparticles move through plants and affect health,” she says. Because this work is part of an emerging field, Svendahl’s experience will include developing new procedures, refining methods, then finally beginning to produce and process data.
“Working in a research lab encourages you to think outside the box and solve problems that may arise,” Svendahl says. “Coming from a more interdisciplinary background, I can bring a new perspective into the lab which is always valuable when working through problems. By having the opportunity to work and study in this environment for an extended period of time, I will grow to become the best student and scientist I can be.”
As a mentor to Svendahl since her freshman year, Korin Wheeler (Chemistry and Biochemistry) has seen the high levels of ambition and resourcefulness Svendahl possesses. Wheeler will continue as her mentor throughout her Beckman Scholarship experience. “Erica has proven to be an intelligent, engaged, and ambitious student,” she says. “She has shown the signs of independence and curiosity that make for a strong researcher.”
Svendahl has a passion for equine care—she has managed barn operations and cared for horses at Lake Meadows LLC, as well as worked in Pasture Management Sales at CC Equine Consulting where her job involved “consulting with potential customers identifying and eliminating harmful pasture plants.” In August of 2020, Svendahl participated in the Green Program through the University of Reykjavik, which is “an immersive educational experience regarding sustainable technology.” The experience was virtual, but Svendahl still got to participate in faculty lectures on topics ranging from climate and topography of Iceland, to geothermal energy, hydropower, energy policy, and power systems.
Originally from Plymouth, Minnesota, Svendahl would like to combine her interest in chemistry and concern for the environment by utilizing research to aid in finding answers to pressing environmental questions. After graduating she plans to continue her education by first getting a Master’s with the goal of pursuing a Ph.D.
Founded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in 1997, the Beckman Scholars Program supports research by exceptional undergraduate students in the fields of chemistry, biology, and the medical sciences. The program aims to promote scientific discoveries, and foster the invention of methods, instruments, and materials that will open up new avenues of research. Santa Clara University was one of 13 universities across the United States to receive funding from the Beckman Foundation in 2019, intended to support four students over four years. Kat Xia ’20 (Biology) was named SCU’s first Beckman Scholar in 2019; Adriana Gutierrez Ramirez ’22 (Chemistry) was named the 2020 Beckman Scholar; and Basler and Svendahl wrap up this round of funding.