Foster ’12 Discovers Passion for Chemistry, Pursues Ph.D.

By schwartzsa | June 14, 2012

As a junior in high school, Celia Foster ’12 never could have known that typing the simple words “Best Schools for Study Abroad” into a search engine would drastically alter the course of her life. Undecided about her major, she was certain about one thing: she was going to experience cultures different from her own. While Arcadia’s First Year Study Abroad Experience (FYSAE) in Stirling, Scotland, was ultimately the reason Foster chose the University, it was Arcadia’s small class size, personal attention and Office of Career Education that would make all the difference as she mapped out her professional life.

“I figured if I’m going to take on the big experience of college, why not begin it in another country?” says Foster. “I learned so much about the world, other academic systems, views of America as an outsider and of course myself. Every day I learned something completely new, and without it I would not be the person I am today. I believe everyone should go abroad, as it broadens your horizons and makes you realize how closely knit the world truly is and how lucky we are to have an American passport.”

After a significant semester of discoveries, Foster returned to Glenside following winter break of her first year in spring 2009. It was then that the panic began to set in—she still hadn’t declared a major. Looking for guidance, she visited the Office of Career Education.

“Career Education turned out to be a fantastic resource for me,” she says. “Everyone was really approachable. I just went in and said, ‘I don’t know what I want to do.’ So they gave me a bunch of personality tests and all of the areas testing areas were pointing directly to Chemistry—a major I honestly hadn’t even considered.”

As soon as Foster declared her major, her academic adviser, Dr. Chester M. Mikulski, Professor of Chemistry and Physics, worked with her to ensure she could study abroad for the full 2010-11 academic year at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and still graduate on time.

Dr. Linda Mascavage, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Physics, also became an advocate for Foster’s academic and personal development, guiding her in the classroom and discussing future goals. As a result, she decided to pursue a doctorate degree.

“[Dr. Mascavage] is extraordinary,” she says. “She’s an organic chemistry teacher and really intense, but after the class is done, she’s amazing. She helped me through the whole grad school process. I often go up to her office just to say ‘hi’ if I haven’t talked to her in a while, and we catch up on life. You usually don’t think of professors in that way, but she’s definitely been a mentor.”

Mascavage was also influential in finding Foster an internship with Biocoat, Inc., which focuses on hydrophilic coatings development and licensing for medical devices. The company has close ties to Arcadia, as it acquired Beacon Research, a non-profit research company begun by former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Ellington Beaver, in 2003. When it came time for Foster to begin an internship, Mascavage explained the connection. It resulted in a paid internship for the duration of Foster’s senior year.

Her experience resulted in a Senior Capstone project, “The Testing of Poly(ethylene glycol) as a Lubricious Coating,” which examines the durability and lubricity of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG), a polymer known for its wide range of molecular weights and variety of uses in the medical community.

“I know that I enjoy working in a lab environment, as it validates my Chemistry degree and the path I have chosen,” she says. “Working in a real industrial lab is very different to the classroom labs, and it has been a very hands-on learning experience. Different techniques and characterization methods have been taught to me, which I do not believe I would have received until graduate school, so I feel like I am already a step ahead.”

Foster was the recipient of the American Institute of Chemists Medal Award at Arcadia’s 2012 Honors Convocation in April. She will continue to gain valuable practical experience at Biocoat before she begins studies for a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at University of Delaware in the fall.

Photo by Josh Blustein