ARMAS in Education Center

Achieving in Research, Math, and Science

Spotlight / Organic Chemistry Student Has Pick of Seven Doctoral Programs

​An organic chemistry senior at Highlands University has his pick of seven top doctoral programs around the country.

In December, Melecio Perea’s letters of acceptance started rolling in from Ph.D. programs at Yale, UC-Berkeley, UT-Austin, UCLA, Northwestern University, Colorado State University and Indiana University.

“I feel very honored and thrilled to be accepted into these doctoral programs because they are all exceptional in organic chemistry research,” said Perea, a 21-year-old Las Vegas, New Mexico native. “I’m most interested in researching the synthesis of complex molecules that exhibit biological activity in the human body. For instance, molecules that could potentially have therapeutic properties for treating certain conditions and diseases like cancer.”

Perea has earned a 4.0 GPA and will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree. Most science programs bypass a master’s degree in favor of a doctoral course of study.

Perea has worked as an undergraduate research assistant in organic chemistry professor Brooks Maki’s Organic Chemistry Laboratory, where the work focuses on molecules that exhibit antioxidant properties.

“Antioxidants are important in increasing immune system function and preventing vital molecules in the human body from breaking down. For example, antioxidants protect DNA and other essential molecules. Working with Dr. Maki in his lab gave me an excellent foundation for organic chemistry research and helped me succeed at research internships,” Perea said.

Maki said the fact that Perea was accepted into seven prestigious Ph.D. programs indicates he is among the most exceptional undergraduate organic chemistry students in the country.

“Something that really sets Mel apart is his ability to challenge himself by setting lofty goals – like applying to these top organic chemistry doctoral progams – and then following through to achieve these goals,” Maki said. “As a researcher, Mel stands out for his intellectual curiosity and strong drive to extract the underlying scientific purpose of the research. He’s also accomplished at presenting his research at regional and national chemistry conferences.”

Maki said Perea is an extraordinary role model who inspires his peers to also shine in and out of the classroom.

“Doctoral programs take hard work, intelligence and maturity. Mel has all these qualities in spades. I expect him to excel in whatever doctoral program he chooses and contribute to the organic chemistry field,” Maki said.

Perea honed his research skills at two highly competitive chemistry research internships, one as an Amgen Scholar at Berkeley in summer 2015 and one at the University of Pennsylvania in summer 2014.

“At Berkeley I had the opportunity to work with one of the leading scientists in the field of complex molecule synthesis, which reinforced my decision to pursue organic chemistry research,” Perea said.

His professional aspirations are twofold.

“I’m interested in both university research and teaching. One thing that really influenced my desire to teach was having the opportunity to be a supplemental instruction leader for organic chemistry for ARMAS. I found it very fulfilling to use the knowledge I acquired from taking the class to help other students gain a better understanding of the material and succeed,” Perea said.

ARMAS is the university’s Achieving in Research, Math and Science Center, a nationally recognized program that increases graduation rates for science majors. In 2015, Perea was named the ARMAS Supplemental Instruction Leader of the Year. In 2014, ARMAS awarded him a scholarship for academic excellence funded by the National Science Foundation.

The 2012 valedictorian from West Las Vegas High School earned dean’s list honors every semester of attendance at Highlands and was named the Outstanding Organic Chemistry student in 2014.

“The supportive and encouraging environment at Highlands allowed me to have a great undergraduate experience and excel. I’m truly grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had here, and look forward to this new chapter of my life,” Perea said.

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