Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ali McClean - 1993

Ali McClean

Once in a lifetime, a moment arrives that can change the course of a person’s life. Exactly such a crucial event happened to me during my studies at the University of the Virgin Islands. I entered the St. Thomas campus in 1989 as a starry-eyed biology freshman with an aim to pursue a career in medicine, but fickle fate had other designs for me. My first year was truly inspiring and filled with many enjoyable discussions in biology and chemistry with Dr. James Battey and Dr. Peter Desrosiers respectively. In my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to work in the lab of Dr. Meledath Govindan in the area of marine natural products along with Mr. Kevin Brown and Dr. Teresa Turner. The experience was truly transformative. That initial research project separating and analyzing compounds using chromatographic techniques was my quintessential lab experience and remains one of my favorite procedures to this day. 

After the first taste of scientific research my future path was clear. No longer was I destined for white halls and hospital floors but headed instead toward black lab benches and field sample collections. More memorable events unfolded as additional research projects in biochemistry continued with Dr. Battey and Mr. Brown. Meanwhile, coursework from Dr. Stuart Ketcham and Dr. Robert Wyatt steered my interests toward molecular biology.

It was a fantastic time filled with engaging professors in lectures, in addition to the lab work. My classmates were equally engaging inside and outside of the classroom. One particular student and good friend proved unusually competitive in our shared chemistry and mathematics classes where despite my efforts she bested me, often with the top scores in the class. Fortunately for my ego, we parted most common coursework soon after. It was a lesson in humility learned at UVI that has served me well beyond my undergraduate years.

Ali McClean as a UVI student in 1993
I went on to work briefly for USDA-APHIS in St. Thomas with Mr. Dennis Jones after receiving my B.S. in Biology in 1993 and then back to UVI at the Water Resources Research Institute under the tutelage of Dr. Henry Smith where I shared many thought-provoking discussions (that continue to this day) before finally journeying on to graduate school at the University of California, Davis.

Today, I am a research scientist for USDA still dabbling in molecular biology albeit under the umbrella of plant pathology. Although far removed from my days at UVI as an undergraduate, I still treasure those moments. Other critical junctures have arisen over time but precious few have been as pertinent or as defining as those at UVI several years ago. Most importantly, that rival student from chemistry class that proved so formidable? I married her. Thank you UVI! 

Dr. Ali McClean is a Research Scientist for the USDA and is married to Juliette Maduro (1993). 

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