Faces of Rhodes

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Winn Decker ′15

Major: Chemistry
Minor: Political Science
Hometown: Dyersburg, TN

Extracurricular activities: The Big Diehl RSA, Internal VP of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, and the Springdale Elementary May Day Festival Leadership Team

Academic interests: Research at the University of Memphis in the Mobile Analytical Monitoring and Miniaturization Laboratory (MAMML) with Dr. Paul Simone and Dr. Gary Emmert

Tell the story of how you came to Rhodes.

When I was in high school, basketball had essentially been my life. I had always wanted to play basketball in college, but I did not want to sacrifice a quality education to go somewhere to play. When Rhodes first started to talk to me about possibly coming and playing ball here, I was skeptical. I had been set on moving out of Tennessee to experience life in a different part of the United States. However, I decided to take a tour of Rhodes, and I immediately fell in love. It was far enough away from home I could be independent, while also giving me the big city experience I had longed for. After fall break of sophomore year, I quit basketball to give myself time to do chemistry research; but in no way do I regret coming to Rhodes for basketball, because I know it’s the place I am meant to be.

How have you changed since coming to Rhodes?

When I got to Rhodes, I assumed I wanted to go to medical school because I liked chemistry. In my mind the two went together. However, when I started to take more focused chemistry classes, I realized my desire was not to be in a doctor’s office, but to use chemistry to help the world around us. The summer after my sophomore year I was fortunate enough to receive a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates position at the University of Memphis. After listening to several of the professors speak about their research groups, one in particular stood out to me – MAMML, which focuses on drinking water.

Chlorination is the most widely used water disinfectant process in the United States; about two- thirds of water utilities use chlorine gas and the other third uses bulk hypochlorite solutions (bleach). In recent years, there have been homeland security concerns that have driven many water utilities to move away from the use of chlorine gas and toward the use of alternatives. One of the simplest alternatives is transitioning to bulk hypochlorite solutions. My research focused on the disinfection by-products (called haloacetic acids, or HAAs) produced when using this method and their potential adverse health effects. Understanding the fate of HAAs in the bleach feedstock can be determined by spiking concentrations of each HAA species into the bleach feedstock. The concentrations are then monitored using post-column reaction-ion chromatography with nicotinamide fluorescence.

I presented my procedures and findings from this study at the Pittsburg Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy in Chicago in March. It was a great experience to participate in this conference as an undergraduate. I was able to see different aspects of the chemistry industry and the people that help run it. I also presented this research at Rhodes’ URCAS in April.
How have your interdisciplinary studies helped you experience a true liberal arts education?

I came into Rhodes knowing I was going to pursue a chemistry major, but had not really thought about branching outside of that department. After learning about the Foundations curriculum at Rhodes, I realized I was going to have the opportunity to take classes that I had never thought about before. Intro Political Science was one of the first classes that I took outside of chemistry, and I fell in love. After that, I was always looking for political science courses that fit into my schedule. These courses offer me a completely different education than the one that I get in the chemistry lab. I have been able to apply these political science courses to my chemistry studies and bridge the two.

Can you talk about your post-grad goals?

Rhodes gives students the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process of many events at Rhodes. I am the Rhodes Student Associate for The Big Diehl, an organization that provides campus-wide programming for students through things such as discounted Orpheum tickets, ski trips, and Grizzlies tickets. When this position came open, I was asked to interview for it. This was the start of me finding my career path. After being hired as The Big Diehl RSA, I have had so many opportunities to work with the administration on not just programming, but so many other platforms. Seeing their passion for the jobs they do and lives they change really inspired me to pursue higher education. The administration is so connected with the student body, and truly cares about each student as a person, and I hope one day I can do this too.

Compiled by Caroline Ponseti ′15

Tags: Chemistry, Political Science, Tennessee