From chemistry to medicine

Honors Chemistry major Nathan Coddington’s first impression of Oregon State University was an unpleasant one. He was on a campus tour in sixth grade. It was rainy, wet and cold, and 12 year old Nate was a die-hard Ducks (University of Oregon athletics for the uninitiated) fan. Now many years later, on the verge of graduation, Nate marvels at how much he has grown to cherish OSU and his academic experiences here.

A native of Eugene, Coddington ultimately chose OSU to be close to his older brother Taylor who is currently a master’s student in nuclear engineering. As far as he can remember Nate has possessed a drive to excel academically and at Oregon State he has found several opportunities to pursue his ambitions, ranging from research to student leadership experiences.

The straight A student, who has a minor in biology, will study for a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree at the University of California School of Dentistry, Los Angeles, one of the best dental programs in the country. While dentistry is one of the most expensive professional programs surpassing even medical school costs(dental school tuition ranges from $300,000 to well over $400,000), the gifted chemistry major will fortunately escape the clutches of dental school debt.

Nate has received the Health Professions Scholarship from the U.S. Army, which will award him complete coverage of four years of tuition and related costs at the UCLA School of Dentistry in exchange for four years of commitment to the U.S. Army as a dentist.

“Most may not know what they are going to do for the next eight years, but I have a fair idea of what to expect,” said Nate, who found out to his great delight that he got through at UCLA in the first round of acceptances declared in early December. That led him to cancel scheduled interviews with other top dental schools like the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California.

The field of dental medicine is not new to Nate. His mother is a dental hygienist, and Nate came to prefer dentistry over other branches of medicine because he wants to be physically involved with his work and have an impact on patients. Nate’s father works at a brewery in Eugene. While his mother has a diploma from Lane Community College, Nate and his brother are the first in the family to attend a four-year university.

The International Baccalaureate program in his high school had a huge impact on Nate, preparing him to excel in college. Nate got interested in chemistry after his first class in the subject as a sophomore in high school, struck by its wide-ranging applications in every facet of life from molecules to pharmaceuticals and energy. Initially enrolled in biochemistry and biophysics at OSU, Nathan decided a major in chemistry would suit his interests better.

The role of mentoring in student success

Nate credits mentors in the Honors College as well as in the OSU Department of Chemistry for his exceptional academic performance. For the last three years, he has done research in assistant chemistry professor Sandra Loesgen’s lab. A chemistry graduate student who was a teaching assistant in Nate’s honors general chemistry class proved to be a fantastic mentor. He introduced Nate to  Loesgen’s lab after learning about his interest in organic chemistry and pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Loesgen’s research program focuses on the discovery of anticancer, antimicrobial and antiviral compounds from microbial sources such as bacteria and fungi. Nate has conducted experiments on activating biosynthetic gene clusters in fungi, screening extracts for bioactivity towards human pathogens and cancers, and using high performance liquid chromatography to purify compounds. In summer 2016, his research in Loesgen’s lab was supported by a SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) Science scholarship.

His lab experience led to quite a few research presentations at OSU and at national chemistry conferences in Washington D.C., Pack Forest, Washington and Portland, Oregon. Nate has also found a very welcoming and supportive community of Ph.D. students in  Loesgen’s natural products chemistry lab.

“One of the best parts of doing research is that it allows you to interact with faculty a lot and be part of a network. Professors get to know and remember you,” said Nate. “Everyone in the lab—Sandra and the graduate students—have helped me learn how to be a better scientist, how to be a more well-rounded person, and how to communicate and write.”

Interested in working in a research lab outside campus, Nate searched online, found a research position aligned with his academic pursuits and applied for it. His self-motivation bore results. Nate was awarded a summer internship position in the Department of Cell, Development and Cancer Biology at Oregon Health and Science University in Dr. Mara Sherman’s lab where he studied the phenomenon of how healthy cells promoted cancerous growth in pancreatic cancer.

“I was only there for three months. But I learned so much about pancreatic cancer research. That’s one of the best parts of research—it gets you ready for the real world, to take on a project,” said Nate.

While last year brought him good news, in the form of dental school acceptance, it was also a highly challenging one. Nate balanced coursework in difficult subjects like physical chemistry and biochemistry as well as nearly non-stop preparation for the dental admission test (DAT). By summer, he was studying 40 hours a week for the test.

“It is crazy that I was able to get there. I definitely regard it as a feat,” Nate remarked.

His hard work coupled with everything he had learned in his science classes helped him ace the DAT. Writing and presentation skills acquired through his research experiences resulted in a compelling application package and a highly positive interview experience.

A mock interview with Claire Wu, a career counselor in the College of Science, just days before his dental school interviews sealed the deal in his favor.

“Claire was fantastic. She helped me prepare very well and gave me excellent feedback to understand my talking points and areas I should emphasize. My interviews went very well,” said Nate.

Nate has won virtually every scholarship for outstanding scholastic achievement in chemistry. These include prestigious Department of Chemistry awards such as the Carrol DeKock Scholarship, the Linda Mae Oleson Scholarship for Excellence and the Phi Lambda Upsilon Award for outstanding performance in organic chemistry, and recently the Merck Index Award.

The highly decorated student has also nabbed top OSU honors such as the Waldo-Cummings Outstanding Scholar award, the Drucilla Shepard Smith Award (awarded to students with 4.00 GPAs), and the OSU Academic Achievement Award.

He has won the Merrill Family Foundation Scholarship, the SURE Science award in the College of Science, and virtually every notable scholarship in the Honors College.

Nate points out that several mentors and teachers contributed to his impressive achievements. He has enjoyed substantive mentoring relationships in the Honors College as well as in the Department of Chemistry.

“I can’t stress enough how important good mentors are. It is worthwhile to recognize and identify good mentors in your life,” said Nate, whose favorite mentors include chemistry professors, high school teachers, his older brother, soccer and swim coaches.  The mentoring relationship may not last beyond a few years, but “it can have a lasting effect on one’s life.”

Aspiring to take on the role of a mentor himself, Nate has done his bit to engage and inspire children as a volunteer coach at Beaver Hangouts, a program aimed at providing underserved children in Oregon the opportunity to learn about post-secondary education options from college students.

“I love mentoring children and letting them know that they can go to college and succeed. As a first-generation student, I realize how mentors can play a key role in one’s life,” said Nate, who has also mentored first term students in the Honors College.

He serves as president and officer of the OSU chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and has helped organized volunteer events, fund-raisers and professional workshops.

Nate’s academic prowess and zeal to help people will undoubtedly make him an accomplished dentist.

 

 

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