by Jason Kornwitz
Travis DeLano, S’17, is a University Scholar with a near-perfect GPA. He was recognized twice at the Academic Honors Convocation — first for receiving the Harold D. Hodgkinson Award, one of the university’s highest honors for graduating seniors, and then for winning a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Here, he reflects on his past five years at Northeastern and looks ahead to the future.
You studied chemistry at Northeastern and plan to attend graduate school at the California Institute of Technology. What will you focus on, and how will your area of study dovetail with your career ambitions?
I’ll be studying organic chemistry, with a particular emphasis on developing novel chemical reactions for the formation of challenging and valuable bonds. My career goals are not fully clear at this point, but I loved my time on co-op in the pharmaceutical industry and I’m really intrigued by the possibility of becoming a professor. My experience in graduate school will inform my ultimate decision.
Your undergraduate accomplishments run deep, from achieving a near-perfect GPA to publishing a scientific paper while on co-op. What would you say is your biggest achievement at Northeastern?
As part of Northeastern’s Civic Engagement Program, I volunteered for almost three years as an academic coach at SquashBusters, an after-school urban youth development program at Northeastern. I loved it. The students there are really spectacular, kind, and hardworking. It feels good to give back some of what I’ve learned at Northeastern in terms of how to study and prepare for exams, especially when you’re working with kids who come from disadvantaged neighborhoods. I was really impressed by the tight-knit community, with students entering the program in seventh grade and sticking with the same group until they graduate from high school.
How did your research experiences—including working in Associate Professor Michael Pollastri’s lab, where you studied neglected diseases—prepare you for the next phase of your academic journey?
My work in professor Pollastri’s lab provided good training in my basic lab skills as well as the opportunity to collaborate with spectacular scientists around the world. Mike is a fantastic chemist, who helped me to develop the skills to think like a scientist, design good research hypotheses, and make things for the right reasons.
My second co-op, at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company in Boston, afforded me the opportunity to write and publish a paper as a first author. I had never written for an academic journal article before, so that was really good preparation for graduate school. In fact, one of the main reasons I chose the career path I have is because of my co-op experience there.
What will you miss most about the Northeastern community?
My friends. I’ve made some really spectacular lifelong friends at Northeastern, which is going to make it difficult to leave. I was heavily involved in Northeastern’s chapter of the American Chemical Society, as a member of the e-board for the past few years, and I’ll definitely miss the sense of community that developed around our shared lover for chemistry. As a Maine native, I’ll also miss Boston. I’ve grown to love the sports, the museums, and the food as well as being so close to the ocean.
Describe your fondest memory of the past five years.
It’s definitely the Dialogue of Civilizations to Iceland, which I did following my freshman year. We studied environmental science and geology while camping around the entire country. We climbed glaciers and volcanoes and it was really spectacular. It’s probably the best thing I’ve done to date and I can’t wait to go back at some point.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can both at the university and outside the university. We live in such an incredible city that has so much going on. Last summer, for example, I volunteered to design and teach a seven-week course on drug discovery for neglected tropical diseases to a group of local middle- and high-school students—and it was very rewarding. Moreover, don’t be afraid to try something that sounds intimidating or unknown to you. I had never done research before Northeastern, but I worked hard to get into professor Pollastri’s research lab and I ended up loving it. Now that’s what I’m going to do with my life.