from a Whiskey
BY REGAN L. SILVESTRI
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” So said Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary who served as president from 1994- 1999. But some things truly are impossible, right? Well, not at Lorain County Community College
(LCCC) in Elyria, OH. We’ve been able to launch a graduate-level
research program at a two-year college.
It’s challenging enough for four-year colleges to offer substantial research experiences to students with 3–4 years of
experience under their belt, but at Lorain, students are using
gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) to characterize flavor compounds in unprecedented flavors of bourbon
So, how did we pull off modeling graduate research for our
students? It was all a matter of being open to the opportunities around us. What follows is our story, and some lessons
about spotting opportunities that could help you achieve
what seems impossible.
Why being early is better
than being on time
It all started very innocently.
A former student told me
at a campus picnic that
he had just completed an
inspiring internship at the
nearby Cleveland Whiskey distillery. Of course, a whiskey company would need chemical engineers, I thought.
So I followed my instincts, and during a brainstorming
session for the local Cleveland Section of the Society for
Applied Spectroscopy (SAS), I chimed in the idea to visit
a whiskey maker for a future group activity. Had I not stayed
active with SAS (and, as you will learn later, my other professional society, the ACS), I would’ve missed an opportunity to
build on my hopes.
On the heels of my suggestion, we organized a tour of Cleveland Whiskey. I arrived early that evening since I had arranged
the tour, and I was pleased to be greeted at the door by the
founder and CEO of the company, Tom Lix. Tom would be our
tour guide. By arriving early, I had time for a pleasant chat that
became a major game changer for our chemistry program.
Say yes to good opportunities —
even if you don’t have all the pieces
I introduced myself, and
when I told him that I
was a chemistry professor at LCCC, Tom
that we collaborate on
a joint research project
using GC-MS to study
some new whiskey flavors
he was experimenting with. How
did he know about GC-MS? I wondered. He’s not an
analytical chemist. It was apparent that Tom took time
to self-educate in order to strengthen his business and
support the work of his employees.
I quickly replied, “Yes, let’s establish a joint research project,”
although I honestly didn’t know what we would do or how we
would do it. All I knew was that we had to do it.
FRONT TO BACK: LCCC students Katie Nowlin, Valerie Gardner, Christo-
Stay active in
pher Wright, and Clayton Mastorovich with Coleen McFarland, a senior
analytical chemist at Envantage, Inc., and SLCC Assistant Professor of
Chemistry, Regan Silvestri. PHOTOS: RONALD JANTZ
Take time to self-
educate even after