Boston tour creates meaningful engagement and career exploration opportunities for science students

July 3, 2024

classroom visit

This spring, 18 Albion College chemistry and biochemistry students, four faculty members, and one alumna traveled to Boston to learn more about career opportunities in the pharma, biotech and medical science industries across institutional and academic laboratories, and to explore one of America’s most vibrant big cities. This is the second trip the department has taken in as many years, touring medical, scientific, and pharmaceutical organizations, networking with alumni from the area, and seeing the sights of the historic city.

According to Craig Streu, professor of biochemistry and the lead organizer for the trip, the experience was intended to expose students, some of whom have never been on a plane or gone far beyond the borders of Michigan, to the types of careers that are available to them with their degrees and the skills they are acquiring at Albion. It also served to expand the students’ minds to new areas of scientific exploration and knowledge, and sought to identify potential student internships, post-baccalaureate opportunities, and more.

“Everyone has been to a doctor’s office and, by extension, has some idea what that job entails. No one sees an industrial scientist at work, so choosing that profession requires a bit of a leap of faith,” he said.

lab visit

Scientist or healthcare bound, the trip had a little something for everyone. Among the tour stops were some of the most recognizable organizations in Boston and the scientific community, including the Clinical Chemistry Laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Weizmann Institute of Science (organized by Nicole Tolan ‘05); , the Massachusetts General Hospital Museum; pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Sanofi; The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at the Putnam Gallery at Harvard University; and the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, where students prepared weeks ahead of time and hauled equipment across the country in order to run demos for children in the community who were visiting the museum.

“My favorite moment of the trip was watching the students engage with kids at the Charles River Museum,” Streu said. “At the end, the museum director sought out everyone he could find to tell us how much he appreciated us, and how reaching out to them to volunteer—giving to the place we visited instead of just taking—spoke volumes about who we are. I don’t think that visit altered the career trajectory of any of the college students, but it may have for the kids they met that day!”


Beyond connecting with companies, the students learned about Boston and the various cultural opportunities available via stops at the Freedom Trail, Independence Hall, a Red Sox game, the aquarium, the harbor ferry, and a private tour of the Sam Adams experimental brewery.

What’s more? Streu said the trip served to “showcase Albion College and our amazing students” to potential employers—many of whom rolled out the red carpet for their visitors from Michigan.

“It’s hard to describe how rare it is to get behind the scenes at any pharmaceutical company given the intellectual property and security concerns at play,” said Streu. “But through our close
alumni and professional contacts, our students have been to three in 14 months.”

At Sanofi, the group toured the process chemistry and analytical facilities and met with a panel of industry professionals. At Novartis, they did a networking event with current employees and interns, where they learned about opportunities at Novartis from folks at a similar career stage. The students had intimate conversations with about a dozen staff members from the clinical chemistry lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Weizmann Institute about careers in clinical chemistry and the research they are doing at the cutting edge of creating new diagnostic tests and devices.

“They saw a load of equipment and techniques in the labs as they toured that they recognize, which gives them confidence that they have what it takes to do the work,” said Streu of the group’s visits to the labs.

Barbara Weiskittel ‘83, retired director of scientific leadership in the cardiometabolic franchise for global human health at Merck and Co., echoed Streu’s sentiments. “The chemistry and biochemistry faculty are doing amazing work to expose students to research at Albion College, which gives them a huge head start into future work at prestigious institutions,” said Weiskittel, who secured a number of visits for the last two trips. “The students more fully realize they have been given this amazing opportunity, though, if they have something to compare it to. Seeing something is often much more powerful than reading or being told about it. Seeing a biopharma company using the same lab instruments the students are using in their school year or summer FURSCA research has been life-altering for the students. They can now see that it is not such a giant leap toward a goal outside of Albion College.”

Nick Miller ’25, a senior from Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, with a dual major in biochemistry and mathematics, joined the trip on the recommendation of his advisor.

“I didn’t know how much of a hub Boston was for biochemistry which was really neat, and I also learned that there is such a wide variety of job opportunities after graduating from grad school,” Miller said. “I enjoyed visiting the big companies to see what their work environment is like and how well-run the labs are.”

Miller plans to continue his education in the field of biochemistry upon graduating from Albion.

Toward the end of the trip, students were paired with local alumni in related fields for some unstructured networking time over pizza and pin bowling. Alumni included Dave Musselman ‘83, director of the City of Boston’s Municipal Energy Unit; Jordan Hempfling ‘16, a scientist at Sanofi; Alex Nanna ‘13, a protein engineer and bioconjugation chemist at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals; Martina Zafferani ‘17, a chemical biologist at Flagship Pioneering; and Weiskittel.

The students had the opportunity to connect on their last night with President Wayne Webster and additional Albion Brits at a gathering of Boston-area alumni.

Boston alumni

“Alumni also play a key role in the experience,” added Weiskittel. “Talking with alumni who have been on the path they are now treading and seeing they have gone on to do so many amazing things in areas they had not heard of before can provide a vision, a network, and a lifeline for the future.”

Students who attended the trip reflected on the important role Albion alumni played in their overall enjoyment of the trip and the many ways the experience provided a better sense of what is available after graduation and what avenues they wish to pursue.

“The opportunity traveling to Boston allowed me to take a deep dive in the different career possibilities offered. My career path took a turn when I decided to take the direction of graduate school for chemistry,” said Madison McGraw ‘25, a biochemistry major and member of the Wilson Institute for Medicine from Clarkston, Michigan. “Being able to have events with Albion chemistry and biochemistry alumni allowed me to ask questions one-on-one about their career pathways which helped me confirm my decision for graduate school.”

Fellow biochemistry major from Dallas, Texas, Brianna Lopez ‘25, was equally complimentary of the support received from Albion alumni on the trip. “The opportunity to go to Boston really opened my eyes to the different career possibilities I am able to pursue,” she said. “With the amazing alumni event, I was able to see the amount of support I’ll have because of the community that Albion creates. This trip made me excited to start planning life after graduation!”

“Without the help of the biochemistry and chemistry department, I would have been going into the workforce blind,” added Michaley Vieau ‘25, a biology major from Jackson, Michigan. “It was amazing to experience Boston and meet with many different alumni on the trip. I was able to gain insight that will help me as I look for a job in the future, and I also made memories that will last a lifetime.”

This annual trip is made possible in part by the Sindt Experiential Learning Endowment and other generous alumni support.