Ask any Spartan about their UNCG experience, and they’ll tell you that it’s all about the people.
It’s the relationships that make this place special – the professor who encourages a student to submit her paper to a conference or the staff member who counsels a struggling freshman.
This month, we’re kicking off a new web and video series, dubbed “Spartan Spotlight,” that highlights the people who help shape the UNCG experience for so many students – the faculty and staff that challenge and inspire Spartans.
Our first spotlight features someone who embodies excellence and what it means to be a teacher-scholar: Dr. Nadja Cech, Patricia A. Sullivan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry.
Cech’s passions encompass teaching and mentoring students and working with medicinal plants and fungi to find new ways to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections.
Over the last 10 years, Cech’s collaborative research program has received more than $6 million in external funding from organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Yet her internationally recognized research has humble beginnings – it was running barefoot on her family farm in Oregon when Cech started to explore how plants could be used as medicines. A few years later, as a student at community college, she had the opportunity to participate in research for the very first time.
“We would horse-pack into the Oregon wilderness to do lake water surveys. It was very hands-on,” Cech said. “That’s what got me excited about chemistry.”
That excitement can still be seen today in Cech’s lab, where she and her 14 students work to find molecules from plants or fungi that could be used to develop new pharmaceutical drugs. Her team, Cech Research Group, includes freshman chemistry majors all the way up to PhD candidates. It’s this unique mix that makes the group so successful.
“Undergraduates bring an unbridled, unjaded enthusiasm to the lab that is so helpful,” Cech said. “When you have new people who are excited about research, it keeps everyone energized. I think there is a great synergy between our graduate and undergraduate students.”
Cech is deeply committed to supporting diversity and inclusion in her research. Often, that means intentionally seeking out students from underrepresented populations who may not know about research opportunities on campus.
She also serves as a mentor to female scientists. Currently, Cech advises five PhD students – all are young women, and many came to UNCG specifically to be mentored by Cech, who helped establish the PhD in Medicinal Biochemistry program in 2008.
Why UNCG? For Cech, who first arrived on campus in 2001, it’s the students that distinguish the university.
“We have a really interesting, diverse, enthusiastic student body,” she said. “I love working with students. I love that a lot of my students are first-generation students who are being introduced to research for the very first time. That makes UNCG a really wonderful place to be.”
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications
Photography and videography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications