Harvey Mudd Senior Named National Winner of ACS Overcoming Challenges Award

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Britney Baez ’25, a Harvey Mudd College joint chemistry-biology major, is the national winner of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Women Chemists Committee Overcoming Challenges Award.

To recognize efforts in overcoming hardship to achieve success in chemistry, ACS provides a monetary award of $250 and a $1,000 travel stipend to the ACS Fall 2024 Meeting & Exposition, “Elevating Chemistry,” that will be held in Denver, Colorado, this August. While there, Baez will attend networking events allowing her to interact with other award recipients, members of the WCC and ACS leaders.

Baez says she always knew she wanted to be a scientist but wasn’t sure how she’d get there coming from a low-income background where science wasn’t always valued. Born and raised in Palm Desert, California, she is the eldest daughter of Julian and Mireya, who immigrated from Mexico. Baez decided to apply to Harvey Mudd College after learning about its rigorous Core curriculum and policy for meeting 100% of demonstrated financial need. The fact that she’s now studying chemistry at Mudd feels like a giant gift, she says.

In pursuit of her dream of becoming a chemistry professor, Baez is utilizing Harvey Mudd’s wide range of opportunities. She is focused on her research with chemistry professor Spencer Brucks, whose group she joined in her sophomore year with support from a Kubota Research Fellowship. Her research project examines the relationship between polymer shape and degradability, with the hope of making plastics easier to recycle. She recently presented a poster of her work at the 2024 ACS National Spring Meeting in New Orleans, with travel expense support from an ACS Bridge Travel and Professional Development Award. She was also recently named an ACS Scholar.

“Britney has a rare passion for chemistry and excels at independently driving her research,” says Brucks. “She is a highly valued member of our group and the entire chemistry department. We are fortunate to have her as part of the HMC community and look forward to her continued success.”

As a junior, Baez served as an undergraduate teaching assistant for Organic Chemistry I and II and will be a TA for Organic I again this fall. Outside of the lab, she works as a campus tour guide and helps co-teach an Intro to Engineering course to inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center through the Prison Education Project. After graduating from Mudd, Baez plans to attend graduate school for chemistry to study some flavor of organometallic catalysis.

Baez says, “After getting a taste of olefin metathesis from my current research project, I look forward to exploring other flavors such as photoredox catalysis.”

Her long-term goals include earning a PhD and teaching chemistry at a college or university.