Expanding opportunities

In addition to receiving a full scholarship to pursue her Ph.D. in Nebraska, Damaris Rivera-Santos also received a chair’s fellowship as well as a travel fellowship to continue her research in organic chemistry.

“I’m so excited,” Rivera-Santos said. “Without everything here I would have never received the offer from Nebraska.”

The Puerto Rican native originally ventured to SUNY Oswego as part of the summer Intensive English Program in 2006. The program invites undergraduate, graduate and exchange students to the college to improve their English language skills.

“After I finished my undergrad in Puerto Rico, I wanted to come here for grad school because I knew people here,” Rivera-Santos said. “I loved the place and I loved the college.”

When she returned in August 2010 for her master’s degree, Rivera-Santos was immediately drawn to the research aspect of chemistry.

“I never did research in Puerto Rico,” she said. “I took classes that I could never have imagined taking before.”

Rivera-Santos’ research focused on new developments that work to synthesize compounds which have different medicinal properties.

Introduction to research

She credits her adviser, Dr. Fehmi Damkaci, for introducing her to research.

“He really helped me a lot,” she said. “He gave me the chance to be part of his research group and is always available for anything I need. Everything I know about research is because he taught it to me.”

“Damaris came to us two years ago with the intention to continue [to a] Ph. D. program,” Damkaci said in an email. “I think we fulfilled her dream with this scholarship.”

Rivera-Santos believes the small size of the chemistry program allowed her to have a closer relationship with her professors.

“I’m so thankful to Oswego and the chemistry department for giving me the opportunity to come over here... since I started, they always have been available to help me, even though I came from a different country and didn’t know anything about the college.”

As an adviser, Damkaci hopes to see all his students succeed in the same way Rivera-Santos has.

Professors as mentors

“I always see finding a placement after working with you as my responsibility,” Damkaci said. “When they get placed in a job or graduate school, I feel I did my job.”

While serving as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate chemistry classes, Rivera-Santos discovered another passion of hers -- teaching.

“Since I started to teach labs I realized I just love it,” she said. “I love how students learn. If they don’t understand something they can ask me and I like that interaction.”

The experience as a teaching assistant helped Rivera-Santos make plans for her future.

“I want to pursue a post-doc then go to work in a real lab but after that I want to teach,” she said. “I just love teaching and I want to become a professor.”

Rivera-Santos left for Nebraska one week after graduating with her master’s degree. She acknowledges the college in helping her move forward with her education.

“I’m so thankful to Oswego and the chemistry department for giving me the opportunity to come over here,” she said. “They gave me the chance to get my master’s and to teach and I am so grateful for that chance.”