News - Publish, Publish, Present, Present - Well Equipped Grad Finds His Stride

Publish, Publish, Present, Present - Well Equipped Grad Finds His Stride

By Carla Morris

Kirk Pearce-WhiteboardYou can take the scholar out of the college, but you can’t take the college’s influence out of the scholar . . . at least when it comes to Kirk Pearce ’15 and his alma mater, Greenville College.

When Kirk talks about his two recent publications in scientific journals and a pair of upcoming presentations at major conferences, he relates the experiences to his not-so-distant undergraduate past majoring in chemistry and physics at GC.

Currently a PhD candidate and student research assistant at Virginia Tech, Kirk studies theoretical chemistry. Traces of his undergraduate experience sometimes influence his current work. Here are a few:

1. Honors thesis: that little extra jump start - Last fall, The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters published a paper that Kirk co-authored. Entitled, “That Little Extra Kick: Nonadiabatic Effects in Acetaldehyde Photodissociation,” it involves research Kirk conducted as an undergraduate at GC and addressed in his senior honors thesis.

2. Simulations déjà vu - The Journal of Natural Products has just published another of Kirk’s papers. This one recounts research he conducted that potentially holds the key for effective new antimalarial drugs. As part of his work, Kirk ran computer simulations of chemical systems, a familiar process from his GC days.

3. Practiced storyteller - As a student researcher at GC, Kirk explained his work through a poster presentation and symposium. He will use that format again when he presents at upcoming conferences with the Southeast Theoretical Chemistry Association (SETCA) at the University of Mississippi, and the 11th Triennial Congress of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists (WATOC) in Munich, Germany.

4. Experience in scholarship - This year, Kirk also officially became a PhD candidate. He likens the literature review and defense of his proposed doctoral research to his work at GC, writing and defending his departmental honors thesis. The prior experience gave him confidence. “I have been pleasantly surprised by how well Greenville College prepared me for graduate school,” he says.

5. Incomparable gift x 2 - Kirk acquired more at GC than skills and hands-on research. He received the incomparable gift of inspiration.

Dr. [Darrell] Iler singlehandedly made my first research experience possible at Washington University in St. Louis,” he recalls. “At multiple times in my college career, he saw potential in me that I couldn't see myself. If it weren't for Dr. Iler, I wouldn't be in graduate school today.”Kirk Pearce

Ordell Walker, then GC's head football coach, proved influential as well. “He instilled life principles in myself and my teammates that I still fall back on to this day . . . Any success that I have achieved can be attributed to these two men and the difference they made in my life.”

Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

In spite of the advantages GC afforded him, and his well-honed critical thinking and problem solving skills, Kirk tends to lean into humility. His research presents problems and questions that even puzzle experts.

“I have the privilege of working under one of the best theoretical chemists in the world, and even he has no answer to my questions at times.”

Perhaps that’s where one more trace from Kirk’s GC past comes into play. He recalls that professors compelled him to think critically about his faith:

“They taught me how to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible in my pursuit of science and faith simultaneously.”

One thing is certain: The total package Kirk Pearce embraced after four years at GC eclipsed anything he could possibly imagine right out of high school, bright-eyed at the prospect of playing a little more ball.  

Learn more

Kirk Pearce Awarded With 2015 President’s Citation
Record Number of Students In Summer Science Research
Quantum Leap
Extending Our Heritage of Scientific Education and Innovation
Foundation for the Sciences Will Support GC STEM Programs

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This story was published on May 16, 2017

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