Amazing Students

Kaitlin Luedecke

Kaitlin Luedecke (Photos by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Kaitlin Luedecke, a Goldwater Scholar on track to become a chemistry professor, hopes to inspire a new generation of scientists both in the classroom and in the laboratory.

Peachtree City, GA

High school:
McIntosh High School

Current employment:
Undergraduate research assistant in the Robinson Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory

Family ties to UGA: 
My family and I are from Chicago, Illinois, originally, so I don’t have any particular ties to UGA. My younger sister chose to attend UGA after me, however, so I like to think that we’re starting a legacy!

Expected graduation:
Spring 2020

Degree objective:

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
Spring break 2019 I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Colonia, Uruguay, with some other UGA Foundation Fellows, and I had the time of my life! I attended some lectures at the Buenos Aires Law School, visited a prison, toured a hospital and ate A LOT of good food (the best ice cream I’ve ever had!). I also watched the sunset on a beach in Uruguay, a tango show in Argentina and an opera in el teatro colón. I am so lucky to have been exposed to such a unique culture during spring break — a highlight for sure!

My third year was overall a pretty fruitful one for me. I began the school year with an invitation to the American Chemical Society Inorganic Undergraduate Symposium Workshop at the 256th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, Massachusetts. As a mid-term Foundation Fellow, my fellowship began my junior year as well, so I was able to use some of my conference funding to attend the conference (Boston is expensive, FYI!). In Boston, I met with notable inorganic chemists, attended talks and learned about the graduate school application process. Additionally, I gave a poster presentation at the meeting, and my poster was highlighted and awarded by the Inorganic Division. I also received the 2018 Undergraduate Award in Inorganic Chemistry from the American Chemical Society, an award given to one student per institution annually.

Outside of the American Chemical Society sphere, I was also named a 2019 Barry Goldwater Scholar this year. This scholarship is the most prestigious award given in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering, and is awarded based on academic merit and research experience to students wishing to pursue a Ph.D. in their field. I was recognized for my research in inorganic chemistry, which I wish to pursue a professorship in after obtaining my Ph.D. I was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, America’s most prestigious academic honor society that honors the brightest liberal arts and sciences undergraduates through a highly selective, merit-based process.

I was excited to begin this school year as president of the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS), affectionately referred to as Chemistry Club. I was secretary this past year, and I hope to continue our professional development, outreach with Kids & Chemistry and Boy Scouts, and support for chemistry majors at UGA. Also, I am excited to grow into my role as marketing officer of Chess Club, which involves managing all social media and growing the club.

Conducting research in the Robinson Inorganic Chemistry Research Laboratory has been rewarding for me. Besides the most recent national American Chemical Society meeting I attended, I have given oral presentations at three other regional and UGA conferences. I am third-author on a publication in the chemistry journal Dalton Transactions, “1,3,2-Diazaborole-derived carbene complexes of boron,” and I hope to have a first-author publication out soon. I have received the CURO Research Assistantship three times, and received conference funding from CURO as well. Additionally, the Robinson lab has provided me with a fellowship and conference funding.

I spent the summer of 2018 continuing my research project in the Robinson lab with funding from UGA Chemistry’s Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities program (SURO). I further investigated the electronic properties and bonding interactions of products isolated in my paper, and I was able to present my findings at SURO’s symposium at the end of the summer.

This year, I began teaching, grading and supervising Honors General Chemistry II students in the laboratory setting as a peer-learning assistant. This position has enriched my undergraduate experience, and has provided me with valuable insight as to what my responsibilities as a graduate teaching assistant will look like. My students are so intelligent and eager to learn, and I like my position as I’m able to encourage an interest in chemistry among them. This experience has definitely been a highlight as well!

I am so lucky to have had so many rewarding experiences during my time at UGA so far, and I am even more excited for the opportunities that I will surely experience in my last year at this university!

I chose to attend UGA because …
… of the Honors Program! The Zell Miller Scholarship was a very compelling reason to stay in-state, and of all of the public universities in Georgia, I found that the Honors Program perks and community were the best at UGA.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
I really enjoy jumping in the fountain! So far, I have joined a group of friends jumping in the fountain to celebrate the end of every semester, and I hope to keep the tradition going. On a more regular basis, though, I like visiting the Trial Gardens, eating lunch every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with friends in Tate, and going to Chess Club and Chemistry Club weekly.

When I have free time, I like …
I love reading (and writing), and I try to devote at least two hours to the activity daily to decompress. The Harry Potter series is by far my favorite, but I’m also very into poetry at the moment! I also prioritize spending time with friends, whether that involves studying on campus or going to Cali N Tito’s (the best restaurant in Athens!). Also, I like to learn in my free time. Currently, I’m learning Python in my spare time and looking into graduate programs I’ll apply to this fall.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
I’m not too crazy of a person, so the only thing I can think of right now is that time I accidentally took the wrong Spanish final my freshman year. My professor handed me the final for Spanish 1001, but I was in Spanish 1110. I flew through the final, thinking that it was really easy, and then I’m walking down the hallway of the MLC after turning it in when I hear “Katie, wait!” from behind me. My professor had chased me out of the classroom to tell me that I had taken the wrong final … and that I had about an hour and a half to finish my actual final! Somehow, I managed to finish the correct final and get an A on it, but I was shaking the entire time wondering how I managed to take the wrong final and not notice!

Photo of Kaitlin Luedecke working in a lab.My favorite place to study is … 
My favorite place to study depends on the level of productivity I’m trying to achieve, really. Generally, I prefer to study with friends on the first level of the Science Library, as I’m a collaborative studier and like to talk while studying (and I get shushed everywhere else!). But, if I’m really under a deadline or super stressed out, I prefer to study at a table by myself on the second level of the Science Library, headphones in and likely staying until the lights flash at 2 a.m.

My favorite professor is …
Does anyone ever answer this question with just one professor?

Gregory H. Robinson, my Honors General Chemistry I professor, principal investigator, and research mentor, has been the single most inspiring professor that I have had the honor to work with. He has challenged me academically, supported me during conferences, and pushed me to be a better scientist. I am so grateful that he looked at me as a freshman and thought that I could become a successful synthetic inorganic chemistry, as I truly discovered that I was passionate about chemistry research under his mentorship and insistence that I pursue my own independent projects. Dr. Robinson cares about his students and his research, and he regularly goes out of his way to ensure that both prosper. He is so funny, brilliant and a great scientist, and I am so lucky to have him as a mentor.

Additionally, I’d like to mention other chemistry faculty who have made my time at UGA great.

I am so appreciative to Doug Jackson for taking me under his wing with every application, interview and scholarship that I have gone out for. Mike Duncan is a great storyteller, and his Physical Chemistry—Quantum Mechanics class was never boring. The best teacher and most caring professor that I have encountered is Donald Wayne Suggs, and I am lucky to have had him as a professor twice already, and I am excited to have him two more times in this year. Amanda Frossard is an amazing chemist who conducts groundbreaking research, and I admire her support of women in STEM. She’s one of my greatest inspirations. And, although his class was quite difficult, Geoff Smith continues to challenge me to think in ways I haven’t encountered before, ultimately making me a better scientist. I am so grateful to have these great mentors in my life!

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
Growing up, I was super into “Animal Planet,” and I was inspired by the first female scientist I saw on TV, Jane Goodall. I wish that I could spend an afternoon with Dr. Goodall to share my story with her, knowing that she was a contributing factor to my scientific status today, and learn more about the highs and lows of her career path. I’m inspired by her research and activism, and I hope to make similar contributions to my field of work someday.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… publish a poetry chapbook! I have grown more confident in sharing my poetry, but the publishing process seems overwhelming at the moment.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
I would ensure that higher education was completely free to anyone who wanted to obtain a degree. I would travel the world. I would work toward sustainability, waste cleanup and reversing global climate change. I would head my own research laboratory (hopefully I’ll get external funding, but if money wasn’t a consideration, then I wouldn’t need to worry about it!) and conduct novel research in inorganic chemistry. I would do a lot of things—if only money wasn’t a limiting factor!

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
My passion is definitely conducting chemistry research. I spend about 40 hours a week in the laboratory running reactions, crystallizing products, reading literature and maintaining our work space. It’s so satisfying to see evidence of a new product via NMR, or to finally isolate a pure, single X-ray quality crystal. I’ve also found that in addition to being in lab, I can share my passion for chemistry research by facilitating faculty member talks at Chemistry Club. We’ve had essentially all research faculty come and give a brief talk about their research at the club, and these talks have even inspired some club members to engage in undergraduate research with some of these professors!

I will further pursue my passion for chemistry research by getting my Ph.D. in chemistry, on track to become a research professor. Hopefully, from that position I can continue to share how awesome chemistry research is with my students and colleagues.

After graduation, I plan to …
After I graduate, I plan to pursue my PhD in Chemistry. Then, after a postdoctoral fellowship, I hope to obtain an assistant professorship at an R1 university, beginning my pursuit of tenure. I plan to inspire a new generation of scientists both in the classroom and in the laboratory!

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be … 
I will always remember watching the 2018 Rose Bowl Game on New Year’s Day. I was spending my winter break in Florida, and we turned on the TV to watch the Dawgs take on the Sooners. While the game was very stressful, and it was ultimately relieving to see UGA pull out a win, I will always remember the moment during halftime when I saw that I was in a UGA commercial! I was so grateful to represent my school (while wearing my lab coat), and I will always remember my mom’s reaction to seeing me on TV: she posted it on our city’s Facebook page, of course! Turns out the commercial was re-run during the National Championship game, but nothing will compare to the excitement and surprise that I felt seeing the commercial for the first time.