Ten years from now, the plastics created by Shawn Fitch and his research companions may be used every day. Even if the students in the Chemistry 101 lab sections for which he is a teaching assistant (TA) do not know the impact that Fitch's research had on the world, they will know the difference that he made in their education.

Fitch, who is enrolled in a 5-year doctorate program in chemistry, said he has a large workload. He said he and his fellow classmates spend around 60 hours a week at school.

"We are required to teach three sections," Fitch said. "We have a weekly research group meeting where research and literature is presented. We are required to do three hours of Help Desk. And any time that we are not doing any of that, we are doing research in the lab."

He is willing to take on such a heavy load because he hopes it will give him the experience necessary to be successful in the chemistry field.

"I would like to go into government and industry labs and work with plastics," Fitch said.

Marcetta Darensbourg, a chemistry professor who is working in a joint effort with Fitch's research, said Fitch's research efforts have already begun.

"Shawn's interests are currently in synthetic chemistry, and he is preparing catalysts with potential for application to various polymer and co-polymer processes," Darensbourg said.

Fitch said he hopes his research will be beneficial to the environment.

"The ultimate goal of our research group is to create a greener route to polycarbonates, which make bulletproof glass and other types of plastic," Fitch said. "It usually requires pretty harmful chemicals, like mustard gas, but we are looking into cleaner ways to do it."

Fitch said that it is difficult to create a cleaner polymer process that people will actually use regardless of its environmental benefits.

"We may make the best catalyst in the world and the cleanest polymer, but if it is one cent more expensive, they won't use it," Fitch said. "The likelihood of us creating the solution that is used is kind of slim, but we are constantly gaining useful knowledge."

Although Fitch's research is important to him, Darensbourg said Fitch also works hard at helping other chemistry students.

"Shawn is very focused on his work, but he also takes the time to listen and to make intellectual contributions to the work of others," Darensbourg said.

Fitch said he enjoys his TA work with the Chemistry Department's Help Desk, which offers free tutoring to chemistry undergrads.

"I like teaching, but I prefer working one-on-one with students," Fitch said.

Jeremy Andreatta, a graduate student in chemistry and a classmate of Fitch's, said teaching and working on research can be exhausting.

"It's really difficult when you've got your coursework and you are also devoting your work to your students," Andreatta said. "Each grad student teaches three sections, so you are working with 45 students. It is a lot of responsibility."

Fitch said he hopes his work will make a difference in the world.

"I would like my (work) to be useful to society somehow," he said.


For more information about other people and programs that help make Texas A&M University unique, visit thebatt.com.

Watkins Matthew

  • Making a Difference

    Shawn Fitch, a graduate student in chemistry, performs an experiment to analyze a crystal using X-ray diffraction. He is a TA for Chemistry 101 sections. (Photo by Ravi Garach, The Battalion.

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