For Andrew Zulch ’19, environmental science is a vehicle for improving public health. A biology and chemistry double major, Andrew is using his research experience at Elms as a springboard for a career at the EPA.
“Make it better than it is now”
Andrew Zulch ’19 plans to take his passion for environmental science all the way to the EPA one day. A double major in biology and chemistry, Andrew embraced many STEM opportunities at Elms and pinpointed a career that mixes social justice, public health, and biochemistry.
“The fact that Elms has so many opportunities for undergraduate research was definitely a top reason why I came here,” said the Ludlow, MA, resident.
Andrew’s academic achievements earned him two honors his senior year: the American Institute of Chemistry Award and the Mary E. Scanlon Prize, both of which recognize excellence in science.
Andrew’s interest in environmental preservation led him to focus his senior year research on testing mercury levels in public waters. A class trip to the Chicopee River gave him a firsthand look at the threats that manmade materials pose for ecosystems.
“One of the issues they’re having is with hormones from discarded medicine,” Andrew said. “The bottom of the river is laden with these chemicals that the fish are eating.
“My career, hopefully, is going to be trying to fix that type of problem — at least make it better than it is now.”
Learning about real-world applications of biochemistry introduced Andrew to environmental justice. But he also thinks of justice in terms of his academic leadership at Elms. As a teaching assistant for the biology and chemistry departments, Andrew helped students navigate complicated lab assignments. He even had the opportunity to create and grade quizzes, and break down the week’s lecture notes.
“I’m genuinely surprised by how much I was able to do here,” he said. “I’m actually teaching a microbiology lab, which is something I never thought I would do, especially at the undergrad level.”
Developing chemiluminescence (left) and bending glass tubing (right) are just two of the lab techniques Andrew enjoyed working on with faculty.
In addition to learning facts, formulas, and theories, science majors at Elms are encouraged to think about the overall structures and processes that drive scientific inquiry. Taking this value to heart, Andrew challenged himself to replicate the results of a published study, using the lab equipment available at Elms. He quickly realized that professional scientists need to adapt their goals and methodologies to the resources they have at hand.
“In classes, procedures are perfectly outlined,” he explained. “But the study we looked at had gaps.”
“I was in the lab until 10 p.m. every night, but were able to develop a process that worked for our systems and machines,” he said. “It’s like a puzzle. It’s really fun figuring out what went wrong and how I can improve it.”
After graduation, Andrew plans to work in a lab for a few years before pursuing a master’s degree in environmental science or chemistry.