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Benjamin Strickland C’21 Finds Success in Drew University’s RISE Program

“The first-hand experiences in RISE are paramount in helping students find success in their post-Drew careers.”

October 2021 – One of the key lessons Benjamin Strickland C’21 learned in Drew University’s RISE program was that research inherently comes with failure—something he was immediately drawn to.

Strickland, now a PhD student in University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s chemical biology and medicinal chemistry program, was intrigued by the differences between the experiments he’d run in undergraduate coursework and the research he’d done in the lab.

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Strickland received the the program's George deStevens Award for RISE Research in 2020.

In his case, it was the RISE lab, where Drew undergrads are paired with retired star researchers and industrial scientists—like 2015 Nobel Prize Winner Dr. William Campbell—for one-on-one, hands-on research.

“Research is completely fraught with failure, but it’s that same failure that makes the successes in research unparalleled,” he said. “My time in RISE helped me appreciate that aspect and it’s one of the reasons I chose to pursue a career in research.”

This insight wasn’t the only thing to come from Strickland’s time in the RISE lab.

“The first-hand experiences in RISE are paramount in helping students find success in their post-Drew careers,” he said.

“Benjamin discovered the excitement of drug discovery and how his interest in biochemistry and organic chemistry can be applied to this research,” said Dr. Vincent Gullo, director of RISE and former executive at Cetek Corporation, Schering-Plough Research Institute, and Merck & Co.

“Benjamin spent four years in my laboratory. In his senior year, he was working at a graduate school level.”

Strickland points to Gullo’s mentorship as a key to his success, which in addition to his enrollment at UNC includes earning access to research technology and software through the international BioSolveIT Scientific Challenge, an annual contest for researchers in academia conducting drug discovery research. Strickland ended up winning the challenge for his RISE project, based on scientific novelty, interest of target, and approach sought, earning him a grant of €1,000 for costs connected with publishing or presenting his project.

“Having the opportunity to discuss my research, long-term career goals, and my endless questions on a near-daily basis was an incredibly valuable experience.

Dr. Gullo’s willingness and enthusiasm to let his students explore and take their own direction with their respective projects while still being there to supply his guidance and wisdom was especially effective in cultivating independent scientists, a skillset which translates exceptionally well into post-undergraduate studies or experiences.”

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