May 6, 2016 – When Fort Valley State University student Marissa Murchison marches with her bachelor’s degree in chemistry on Saturday, May 7, she will leave campus with fewer financial worries than most of her American counterparts.
“I will graduate debt free thanks to Fort Valley State’s Cooperative Developmental Energy Program,” Murchison said. “It’s a very great feeling, because I know that a lot of students that have loan debt, like Sallie Mae and every other loan company, will be contacting them about, and I won’t have that to deal with.”
Murchison became interested in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) path at an early age.
“Since I was a little girl, I’ve always been interested in science and math,” Murchison said. “Math was always my strong point.” As a student at Crawford County High School in Roberta, Ga., the young student entered Fort Valley State’s Upward Bound Program.
“Well when I was younger, I came here through the Upward Bound program,” she said. “I spent time on campus, and I got to know the campus.”
The year-round federally funded educational outreach program motivates and supports high school students by preparing them for college. Students don’t pay any fees. Murchison remained in the program from 2010-2013.
Murchison learned about CDEP from her aunt, Felicia Sharpe, who works on FVSU’s campus. The CDEP program teams with major oil and energy companies across the nation to launch the careers of minorities and women in the energy industry. It is the only program of its kind in the nation that offers dual degrees in math, engineering, chemistry, biology, health physics and geoscience.
“I did research on Fort Valley State, and learned it was the only school in the state that was dedicated to helping females and minorities go into STEM-related careers,” Murchison said, “so I knew that the program was for me. “I applied for the program during my senior year and it has been a great experience.”
Murchison graduated as the valedictorian from her high school, and enrolled in FVSU in 2013.
“Fort Valley State is a home-oriented/family-oriented institution,” Murchison said. It’s mostly how the professors treat you on campus. I talked to other students that went to larger institutions, and they said they have no one-on-one contact, but here, the professors have an open-door policy. They don’t mind you asking questions about another class, or answering your questions. They might even set up a study session for you to teach you about topics you don’t understand. They put the information in front of you, and they really care about the students and you succeeding in life. They not only want you to pass the class, but to have the bearings and information to go on and do better things.”
Dr. Dwayne Daniels, FVSU’s chair of the department of chemistry and director of the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program, became Murchison’s mentor. Murchison says she has weekly talks with Daniels, where she shadows him in an Academic Laboratory and Classroom lab, where she prepares samples and solutions for experiments.
“I was in Dr. Daniel’s class before he became my mentor,” she said. “Being at Fort Valley State University has taught me that hard work gives amazing results. On the research side, he encouraged me to go to conferences like the Peach State LSAMP annual conference, which was in Athens, Ga. this year on the University of Georgia’s Campus. We also attended the ABRCMS Conference, where I presented research.”
As an FVSU student, Murchison overcame various challenges, including learning to be better at time management.
“In the beginning, I wanted to be a social butterfly and joined many organizations,” she said.
The student participated in several extracurricular activities while on campus including The American Chemical Society, Peach State LSAMP, Beta Kappa Chi and Alpha Lambda Delta.
“The first semester I had the easy classes, and it was manageable. When I was in my second year, I had to narrow down the clubs that I was involved with. I bought a daily planner and a dry erase board to remind myself of meetings that I had to attend to stay on schedule.”
Murchison also became a student ambassador for FVSU in 2015. She helped with tours for potential students and facilitated events when necessary, including the Fountain City Classic. She was also elected Ms. Chemistry for the 2015 Homecoming.
Murchison attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and presented research she completed during her 2014 summer internship at the University of Arkansas. Her study involved exciting chloroplast proteins with a laser to determine their diffusion coefficients and binding affinities. In 2015, she interned at California’s Aera Energy.
Murchison will transfer to the University of Arkansas where she will earn a second bachelor’s in chemical engineering. After she fully leaves the CDEP pipeline, she plans to earn her doctorate in engineering.
Once Murchison completes her education, she wants obtain a job with an energy company. However, the student’s ultimate dream is to enter into research and development. Murchison wants to figure out a way to combine her chemical and bioengineering knowledge to work on artificial organs and prostheses for amputees.
“I saw an article on how a person could create an artificial ear, and thought that was interesting.” Murchison said. “I also watched a movie called Dolphin Tail, where an artificial tail was created for a dolphin. Most veterans come back injured, need artificial limbs, if you can make ones that are shaped and more comfortable, that would be a help, because they help our lives, so why not make theirs more comfortable.” Murchison also wants help create artificial organs for sickle cell patients who have scarring.
For students considering FVSU, Murchison has this advice.
“I would say don’t discredit or disvalue Fort Valley State because it’s a small school, or in a rural area. Don’t judge it at face value, see what it has to offer. Once you mingle and adapt, you’ll see how great it is. It’s for your betterment. The experience you get here will change you. Don’t judge a book by its cover.”