Children sometimes know what they want to be when they grow up, and Stephen Chmely went from a curious child wondering about science, to working on his doctorate in chemistry from Vanderbilt University.
“I was always that little kid that asked why. It was fun for me to study science, and when I got to college I knew I wanted to do something with science,” he said.
His parents played a large role in his desire to get an education. “My dad is deceased. He was a history teacher and my mom is an elementary school teacher. Since they were both teachers they always stressed getting a good education,” Chmely said.
Chmely took biology in high school and realized that he was more interested in chemistry. “I went more physical science than natural science in college.”
“I took chemistry and biology and I had the opportunity to do labs. Labs in college are much different than labs in high school. Looking back, Vol State has a great program. It’s a community college, but the chemistry program at Vol State is just like the programs at a four year university,” Chmely said.
“I’d consider him one of my best students because he got an A on my final,” said Dr. Chuck Snelling, associate professor of chemistry at Vol State.
“I couldn’t have done what I did without the help of Professor Snelling. You have to be excited about the basics because I remember enjoying the class very much,” Chmely said of his General Chemistry class.
From Vol State Chmely went on to get his Bachelor’s of Science degree from Western Kentucky University, before going to Vanderbilt for his Ph.D.
Snelling has a Ph.D. in chemistry, and talked about how the dissertation process works, describing it with a humorous note. “It’s kind of like a hazing ritual. You and your advisor have to pick a question that no one else can answer.”
“I’m not really nervous. My professor told me that if I wrote along the way, it would be much easier to write my dissertation,” Chmely said.
Chmely’s dissertation is titled, “Sterically Demanding Ligands and Their Effect on the Structure and Reactivity of Main Group Metal Complexes.” An overwhelming title for some to comprehend, but one of his goals is to teach in a way that students will be able to understand and enjoy science.
Publishing is an important part of the academic world. Chmely has seven published manuscripts. “The manuscripts are published via a peer review process,” he said.
“We have a lot of Vol State students who go on to excel in academic studies. Stephen is an example of the reality that a solid foundation provided by a community college can provide. I think we are the regions’ best kept secret. 50 percent of our full time and adjunct faculty in chemistry have Ph.D.s. They are here for their passion for teaching,” said Nancy Morris, dean of Math and Science at Vol State.
Chmely and his wife Allison are expecting their first child in November. “We started dating while at Vol State. Right before I started graduate school at Vanderbilt, I got married in May 2006. We got married, moved, and I started my PhD at Vanderbilt within a two week period. It was stressful at first, but we made it through,” he said.
“I work 365 days a year. If I’m not teaching classes, I’m doing research. The chemistry department pays for my tuition and gives me a stipend,” he said.
Chmely explains why he wants to teach. “Chemistry is the study of the physical world where we all live. It is why the things in the world work. I think people would like chemistry more if they had someone to convey that; someone like me who likes chemistry and can teach it. That would be a fulfilling job.”
For more information about programs at Vol State, visit the Math and Science Division.