Kevin Clark ’12 Named 2018 Beckman Institute Fellow

The chemistry major excelled in professor Dwight Stoll's Quantitative Analysis class. Now, he is headed to the prestigious Beckman Institute.
Posted on April 27th, 2018 by

Kevin Clark '12 poses in front of the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He begins the Fellowship in August.

After finishing his doctorate in chemistry later this spring, Gustavus Adolphus College alumnus Kevin Clark ‘12 will not have much time to celebrate before he has to prepare for the next achievement. Last month, out of a competitive pool of researchers from around the country, Clark was named one of the four 2018 Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellows. In August, he will begin his position at the Beckman Institute where he will develop a unique research project and work alongside Dr. Jonathan Sweedler, editor-in-chief of analytical chemistry’s flagship journal.

If you had asked Clark 10 years ago, when he walked onto the Gustavus campus as a first-year student without a declared major, a career in analytical chemistry — let alone an opportunity to work with the best minds in the field — would not have crossed his mind.

But everything changed during his junior year when he took Gustavus chemistry professor Dwight Stoll’s Quantitative Analysis course.

Clark in the research lab, a place he learned to call home.

“Dr. Stoll has this contagious enthusiasm for chemistry. It was the first time I could actually visualize having a career in a lab,” Clark said. “I had applied to medical school earlier that fall, but by midyear, I was hooked on the research. I had caught the bug.”

“Kevin has a great work ethic, respect for others, and always demonstrates integrity in everything he does,” said Stoll. “When he was in my class again as a senior, he brought those same characteristics to the lab and really stood out.”

With Clark’s new passion, Stoll recommended a position with Aspen Research Corporation for after graduation. Clark applied, scoured through old lab notes the night before the interview, and was offered the job on the spot. But before he started, Clark had to wrap up his time on the Hill and he did not want it to go too quickly. Outside of the classroom, Clark participated in choir for all four of his years and was a founding member of G-Sharp, the College’s acapella group. He also was dating a classmate.

At Aspen, Clark excelled. He gained hands-on experience, learned the ups and downs of a professional lab setting from experts in the field, and stayed up late reading the latest research articles. Pretty soon, his curiosity for the possibilities in analytical chemistry outgrew his position.

Clark applied to graduate school, canvassing the nation for a program that would align with his interests. Again, Stoll had some advice for the aspiring chemist when he saw a familiar name on Clark’s list. With his mentor’s confidence in Dr. Jared Anderson and University of Toledo’s program, Clark applied, was accepted, and moved to Ohio to begin the next step in his career.

Exploring a more biological focus, his doctorate research involves the synthesis and application of a class of compounds known as magnetic ionic liquids for faster and more selective DNA sample preparation. The results have wide-ranging impacts for clinical and forensic analyses.

“Dr. Anderson is a tough adviser with extremely high standards. But whenever I ask about Kevin, it is only praise,” Stoll said. “And that strikes me every time I hear it. At Gustavus, we get used to having well-rounded incredible students, but when we send them elsewhere, it brings extra attention.”

Kevin ’12 and Hannah ’13 Clark

When Anderson transferred to Iowa State University, Clark helped him pack the lab and transferred with him. Despite all the moves, Clark has always kept the most meaningful part of Gustavus close. His longtime girlfriend and former classmate, Hannah Durbin, graduated in 2013 and began her own path to graduate school and a doctorate in clinical psychology. The two were married in 2014.

“Gustavus is where I found the two most important things in my life. I found my vocation and I found my wife. And my job at Aspen paid for the wedding, so they’re forever tied,” laughed Clark. “We both sacrificed a lot for our education and I think it just might be paying off.”

As a Beckman Fellow, his research will focus on developing analytical tools that improve measurement of RNA modifications in the central nervous system, which will hopefully uncover the molecular underpinnings of neurodegenerative diseases. The ultimate goal is to be able to improve therapies for these diseases.

For Clark, the ultimate goal is to follow in Dr. Stoll’s footsteps, where he can be in front of the class, manage his own lab, and mentor students in a meaningful way. 

“I used to be super quiet and it took a special kind of mentor in Dr. Stoll to create a space where I could be confident enough to ask questions and not be worried about making silly mistakes,” Clark said. “It taught me something in the long arc that is my story: if you challenge yourself today, you set yourself up for a better tomorrow. Maybe your big challenge is asking a question in class. Take the opportunity, because you’re going to unlock so much more about the class and yourself. Then, the next day, ask another question and find yourself a new challenge.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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