William & Mary

Alumni Fellowship Award

Jonathan ScheererThanks to a two-year-old in his house, Jonathan Scheerer is expanding his understanding of chemistry.

“You never realize how much chemistry nerd gear is out there until you have a child,” he says. “Other people think that your child should have a lot of these chemistry bibs and periodic table onesies.”

For Scheerer, an associate professor of chemistry, it’s fun to watch young people — undergraduates, in this case — get excited about science research.

“Even before I got here, there was one student who was emailing me about what research I was going to be doing,” he says. “So they’re certainly passionate about getting involved in these things, even though they’re 18 years old. They’ll bring so much enthusiasm that it’s fun to direct them in a way that fits in with scholarship.”

The Scheerer Lab focuses on the study of biochemical products found in nature. While examining, reproducing and then modifying compounds originally produced by fungi or plants, Scheerer and his students are also exploring possible therapeutic applications.

“We’re taking something that is produced in nature and trying to make it de novo from simplified building blocks that you can essentially order,” he says. “How do you build that same structure, even though it’s produced by a fungus in nature? How do you make it in the laboratory? This gives you the opportunity to ask many broad questions around that.”

Students relish the chance to do this sort of unique research, but Scheerer values the mentoring opportunity just as much.

“William & Mary is really perfect for me in that it has one foot in the traditional liberal arts, but it’s also research-active,” he says. “At least for chemistry, we don’t have a Ph.D. program. That’s a unique niche when you try to do research with almost exclusively undergraduates.”

Scheerer’s experience as an undergraduate at Beloit College in Wisconsin continues to inform his perspective on education. He can easily draw connections between where he started and where he is today.

“It made a big difference for me in terms of involvement and all kinds of learning. I saw wonder and amazement and great passion in a lot of different subjects. I don’t know that I would have gotten that same exposure in a larger state institution, so it sent me on the path of being more of a lifelong learner,” he says. “I guess you’d say that’s coming back full-circle now.”

The Right Equipment

As a Columbia summer researcher, he sat at a “desk” that was just a door laid across two filing cabinets. They left the knob in.

Chemical Links

Took his entire lab to a conference in Maryland, where they played miniature golf to unwind. “I don’t know if minigolf is the way to flesh out the best in everyone,” he says with a smile.

Other Alumni Fellowship Award recipients.