PhD Spotlight | LSU Chemistry

Where in the world are our PhDs?

Simon Mwongela

Simon M. Mwongela

PhD (LSU 2005)

Associate Professor of Chemistry, Georgia Gwinnett College

For LSU Chemistry alumnus Simon Mwongela, cultivating a love of science was a home-grown affair. He took an interest in the local plants around his village of Wenyeani in Makueni County, Kenya. According to Mwongela, he became curious about what made certain berries delicious snacks or useful medicines while others were deadly poisons. After earning his PhD in 2005 from LSU, Mwongela was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Irvine. He later started his teaching and research career at Kent State University Ohio, after which he joined Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) where he is currently an associate professor of chemistry. His research work has returned to the roots of his passion, and he currently studies the properties of cyclotides extracted from medical plants cultivated on a GGC campus garden.


Previous Alumni Spotlights

Rider Barnum

Rider Barnum

BS (LSU '07), PhD (LSU '12)

Senior R&D Chemist, Vincit Group, Zeco Inc. Chattanooga, TN

Natchitoches, LA, is the hometown of Dr Rider Barnum.  He graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans, LA, with a BS in Chemistry in 2007.  Rider joined the LSU PhD program in Chemistry in August of 2007.  He earned his PhD under the direction of Cyril and Tutta Vetter Alumni Professor George Stanley.  Rider loved the “freedom to work on research projects, the great facilities available to students/researchers” and the camaraderie amongst grad students.
Dr. Sherrisse K. Bryant

Sherrisse K. Bryant

BS (FAMU '07), PhD (LSU '13)

Visiting Instructor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida

Dr Sherrisse K. Bryant was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, FL in 2007. She relocated to Baton Rouge, LA, to become a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University. She identified as an analytical chemist and decided to join Professor Doug Gilman’s research group. 
Dr Purnendu (Sandy) Dasgupta


Purnendu (Sandy) Dasgupta

BS (Univ of Burdwan), MS (Univ of Burdwan), PhD (LSU '77)

Hamish Small Chair in Ion Analysis in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Texas at Arlington

Dr Purnendu Dasgupta was raised in India, where his father provided a strong STEM influence. The senior Dasgupta was a Physician by training and a Professor of Pharmacology. As a high school student, Sandy saved his weekly allowances to fund his personal electrochemistry projects. He received his Bachelor’s degree with Honors in Chemistry from the University of Burdwan, being recognized as a National Science Talent Search Scholar. He continued his studies at Burdwan, earning a MSc degree in Inorganic Chemistry. He then attended the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Sciences (IACS) in Calcutta as a research scholar with Professor Santi R. Palit in Physical Chemistry.

Dr. Claude J. Davis AKA “Dr. Boil”

Claude J. Davis (aka "Dr Boil")

BS (Xavier), PhD (LSU '01)

Principal Scientist and Brand Ambassador at Zatarain’s in New Orleans, LA

Dr Claude J. Davis was born and raised in the wonderful city of New Orleans, LA. He obtained his ACS-certified Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Xavier University of Louisiana. He joined the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge as a graduate student in organic chemistry. He worked in the group of Professor Robert M. Strongin and successfully defended his dissertation and graduated in May of 2001. On reminiscing about his time at LSU as a graduate student, Claude recalls, “I greatly appreciated the diversity of the LSU Chemistry graduate program. The program had great global representation from a student perspective, and it taught me how to work well with people from different backgrounds including some with language barriers.
Dr Jasmine M. Drake

Jasmine M. Drake

BS (Southern Univ), PhD (LSU '07)

Assistant Professor, Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs

Dr Jasmine Drake is a native of Baton Rouge, LA. She completed her BS in Chemistry at Southern University and A&M College. She continued directly with graduate studies, joining the Department of Chemistry at LSU. With interests in inorganic chemistry, she decided to join Professor Julia Y. Chan’s solid-state chemistry group. Jasmine’s dissertation described the synthesis and characterization of lanthanide intermetallic materials using single crystal X-ray diffraction, powder, X-ray diffraction, and scanning electron microscopy. During her time at LSU, Jasmine was a recipient of the Proctor & Gamble Outstanding Graduate Research Award and won third place at the Colloquium Poster Competition.
Benson J. Edagwa

Benson J. Edagwa

BS (Moi University), PhD (LSU '12)

Instructor and ViiV Healthcare Distinguished Scientist, Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Dr Benson Edagwa was born and raised in Kenya and received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. Reflection on his time as a PhD student Benson stated that he enjoyed the state-of-the-art lab facilities and gifted faculty engaged in cutting edge research and mentoring of students to deepen their understanding of science is something that few other chemistry programs enjoy. Benson completed his PhD in the Spring 2012 and accepted a position at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in July of 2012.
Arther Gates

Arther T. Gates

BS (Alcorn State '00), MS (Univ of Nebraska-Lincoln '02), PhD (LSU '08)
Team Leader, Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, NC

Dr Arther Gates, an alumnus who graduated with his PhD in 2008, was born in the Mississippi Delta in a small town, Marks, Mississippi.  Arther earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 2000 at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi. He earned a Master of Science in Chemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2002.

In August of 2002 he began his graduate career at LSU.  Later that year he began to work in Dr Isiah Warner’s Research Group and was engaged in a collaboration with Professor Robert M. Strongin (now at Portland State University).  

Dr Michael Griffith

Michael Griffith

BS (Northwestern Univ '63), PhD (LSU ' 68)

Retired Vice-President of R&D, ARCO Chemical Company 

Michael Griffith received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, in 1963.  He was the first PhD student of Boyd Professor Emeritus William A. Pryor. He received his PhD in physical-organic chemistry from LSU in January 1968.  He did post-doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota in 1968. Dr Griffith started his career with duPont, and spent a total of 30 years in industrial research and development before retiring in 1998. He is the retired Vice-President (VP) of Research & Development (R&D) for ARCO Chemical Company, a position he held for 7 years.
Dr. Britney Hebert

Britney Hebert

BS (Nicholls), PhD (LSU '16)

R&D Chemist at Oxiteno USA, LLC in Hattiesburg, MS

Dr Britney Hebert grew up in Houma, Louisiana and completed her Bachelors in Chemistry at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA.  After graduation, she decided that she would continue her journey at Louisiana State University as a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry. She joined the macromolecular division and completed her studies under the direction of Dr David Spivak. As a student in his group, Britney synthesized stationary phase materials, their packing into chromatography columns and their use for HPLC analysis.
Dr Veronica Holmes

Veronica Holmes

BS (Southern Univ '99), PhD (LSU '06)

Senior Technical Services Chemist, Bercen, Inc.

Dr Veronica Holmes hails from the microscopic village of “Bayou Goula”, 30 miles south of Baton Rouge. She attended the Honors College at Southern University in Baton Rouge, from whence she received a BS in Chemistry in 1999. In her time at Southern she received a number of awards, including the David and Lucille Packard Foundation Award. She was a Golden Key National Honors Society Scholar and a Timbuktu Academy Scholar.
Dr Wayne Huberty

Wayne Huberty

BS (Univ of Wisconsin-Stevens Point '09), PhD (LSU '12)

Analytical Chemist in the Process Development Center at Albemarle in Baton Rouge, LA

Dr Wayne Huberty was born and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin, and completed his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2009. He accepted his offer to become a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University. With interests in polymers, Wayne decided to join the macromolecular division and was co-advised by Professor Russo and Professor Zhang. Before becoming a PhD candidate, Professor Russo required his students to complete a Master’s degree and Wayne successfully defended his Master’s thesis in 2012 and continued his research toward the PhD candidacy exam. His research involved the synthesis of polymers and their characterization.
Kandace Hurst

Kandace Hurst

BS (Southern Univ), PhD (LSU '10)

Instructor, LSU Department of Chemistry

Kandace Hurst grew up in Baton Rouge, LA.  She attended Scotlandville Magnet High School and participated in the LS-LAMP Timbuktu Academy at Southern University the summer between 11th and 12th grades. She received her BS in Chemistry from Southern University and A&M College.  During her time as an undergraduate she had four summer research experiences: in the Department of Physics at Southern, as part of the SMART program, developing lanthanide cathodes with physics applications, a summer of computational chemistry at Iowa State University and two summers at Albemarle R&D where she worked on flame retardants in polymers.
Dr. Ralph Isovitsch

Ralph Isovitsch

BS (Grove City College '92), PhD (LSU '97)

Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, Whittier College, Whittier, CA

Dr Ralph Isovitsch was born and raised in Butler, in the west of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. He attended Grove City College in Grove City, PA, graduating in May of 1992 with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. A month later, Ralph joined the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University as a graduate student. In keeping with his interests in inorganic and organic synthesis, as well as inorganic photochemistry, he decided to work with Professor Maverick.
Dr. Rolanda Johnson

Rolanda Johnson Wilkerson

BS (Southern Univ), PhD (LSU '04)

Principal Scientist and Senior Manager of Scientific Communications 

Dr Rolanda Johnson Wilkerson has an innate passion for beauty care as well as science! She was born and raised in Baker, LA, where she would do hair, and experiment with makeup, on her dolls and friends. She decided to turn this hobby into her reality and completed a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at Southern University. Rolanda became a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University and received a Huel Perkins Graduate Fellowship. She was drawn to organic chemistry and worked in Professor Robert Strongin’s laboratory where she elucidated the mechanism of chromophore formation in resorcinarene compounds. Her research presented industrial implications for the detection of glucose in blood.
Juneau Gary after

Gary Juneau

BS (UNO ’70), PhD (LSU ‘77)

Owner-Operator, NMR Analysis and Consulting, Decatur, IL 

Gary Juneau grew up in New Orleans where he attended Cor Jesu (now Brother Martin) High School.  He attended LSU New Orleans (now UNO) from whence he received his BS in Chemistry in 1970.  Looking back, this is where Gary first became interested in NMR, although he concedes, “I didn’t know much about it.”  As an undergraduate, he helped support himself by working as a waiter at the Roosevelt Hotel, where his father was the banquet manager.  He was drafted into the army two weeks after graduation.  The Vietnam War was coming to a close by then, so he was posted to Nurnberg, Germany.  He described this assignment as a “great duty” that enabled him to see Europe.

Upon return to the USA, and New Orleans, Gary performed assorted spectrophotometric analyses as a technician in the laboratory of Dr Gerald Berenson at LSU Medical School on Tulane Avenue.  Of that position, Gary says, “the state didn’t pay much and I wanted a more challenging position, so I applied to graduate school.”  He entered the PhD program at LSU in the Fall of 1974.

Dr. Constantina Kappnissi-Christodoulou

Constantina Kappnissi-Christodoulou

BS (Univ of Cyprus), PhD (LSU '04)

Assistant Professor, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus

Constantina Kapnissi-Christodoulou was born and raised in Nicosia, Cyprus. She received her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Cyprus in Nicosia where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Constantina moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to attend graduate school at Louisiana State University, where she completed her PhD studies under the direction of Professor Isiah M Warner in 2004. 
Kenneth G. Kneipp

Kenneth G. Kneipp

BS (Tulane ’66), PhD (LSU ‘71)
Retired from 3M Company, St Paul, Minnesota

Ken Kneipp entered Tulane University in Fall of 1962 with the intention of becoming either a scientist or a mathematician.  By halfway through his freshman year, chemistry emerged as the subject in which he would major.  During his sophomore year, he became aware of the new NSF URPP (Undergraduate Research Participation Program) at emerging centers of excellence.  LSU’s Department of Chemistry received funding under this program and Kneipp was selected to participate.  In the summer of 1964, Kneipp was assigned to work in the newly created laboratories of Professor Bill Pryor.  In relation to that entrée to research, Kneipp recalls the summer as “a rich and interesting experience.” 
Dr. Alecia McCall-Gabriel

Alecia McCall-Gabriel

BS (Xavier), PhD (LSU '12)

Global Coordinator for Failure Modesand Effects Analysis (FMEA)

Dr Alecia McCall-Gabriel was born and raised in Jefferson City, Missouri but claims Detroit, Michigan as home since moving there after her freshman year of high school. Later, she attended Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she majored in biochemistry and minored in biology. Alecia enjoyed her undergraduate research in the synthesis of molecules for cancer treatment so much that she decided to pursue a PhD. In the summer of 2007, she lived in Ghana where she conducted research at the University of Cape Coast, using analytical techniques to analyze phytochemical components of interest for the treatment of diabetes and hypertension.
Dr. Matthew McKenzie

Matthew McKenzie

BS (USF), PhD (LSU '09)

HPC Technical Lead, Corning Inc. Corning, NY

Dr Matthew McKenzie was born and raised in Naples, FL and moved to Tampa, FL where he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at the University of South Florida. Matthew’s decision to attend graduate school was motivated by his participation in an undergraduate research program where he studied the effects of toxin absorption in waterway plants. As a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at LSU, he worked with Professor Bin Chen and collaborated closely with Professor Garno and Professor Waldrop.
Errol Olivier

Errol Olivier

BS (UNO '75), PhD (LSU '80)

Retired as Best Practices Manager, Lanxess Corporation Orange, TX EPDM Plant

Dr Errol Olivier grew up in New Orleans, LA. He married his high school sweetheart, Cindy Lecler, upon her graduation from LSU Nursing School in 1974. Errol himself was an undergraduate at the University of New Orleans where he was introduced to organic synthesis in the laboratory of Professor John Stowell and received his BS in Chemistry in 1975.
Dr. Benson Getenga Ongarora

Benson Getenga Ongarora

BS (Moi Univ), PhD (LSU '12)

Associate Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer Moi University, Eldoret Kenya

Dr Benson Getenga Ongarora was born and raised in the rural parts of Kisii County, Kenya. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. Benson enrolled for a MS degree and, after completing a year of coursework, he was accepted into the Doctoral program in the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University. As a graduate student, Benson joined Professor Graça Vicente’s group where he worked on phthalocyanines as biomarkers and possible photodynamic therapy agents. He published seven journal articles as a graduate student and was also a recipient of Coates Travel Awards which allowed him to present at several conferences.
Howard Pentes

Howard Pentes

BS (LSU 1985),  PhD (LSU 1971)

Laboratory Quality Manager, Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory 

 Dr. Howard Pentes was born and raised in New Orleans, LA and earned both a B.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry from LSU in 1985 and 1991, respectively, under the mentorship of Dr. Klaus Fischer. Dr. Pentes’ dissertation was on oxidative chemical transformations of sesquiterpenelactones. He has worked at the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab in forensics for the past 29 years. Initially, he performed forensic drug analysis testing and eventually transitioned to the Drug Analysis Unit, where he currently manages the Lab’s quality assurance program. In addition, Dr. Pentes taught forensic science at the former Our Lady of the Lake College in Baton Rouge. Dr. Pentes is married to his wife, who also works at the Crime Lab, with whom he has two teenage boys. He says, “The best parts of my job are knowing that as forensic scientists, we are helping the community by solving crimes, and also being able to have lunch with my wife every day.”
Dr Anne M Sauer

Anne M Sauer

BS (LSU '00), PhD (LSU '05)

Global Sector Leader, Adjacencies, Sealed Air, Charlotte, NC

Dr Anne M Sauer was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in 2000 in Chemistry with a minor in Psychology at Louisiana State University. LSU seemed to be the perfect home for Anne as she also decided to return for her PhD degree in the Department of Chemistry. She joined the organic division and worked under the direction of Professor Crowe (Chemistry), Professor Laine (Biochemistry), and Professor Henderson (Entomology). During Anne’s time as a graduate student at LSU, she received multiple awards including the Procter & Gamble Award for Most Academically Distinguished Beginning Graduate Student in the Department of Chemistry, the Outstanding Teaching Award, the Troy H. Middleton Scholarship, and the Procter & Gamble Research Fellowship.
Dr William Silvers

William Silvers

BS (Texas State Univ), PhD (LSU '12)

Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Radiology, UTSW

Dr William Silvers grew up in Kerrville, Texas and matriculated from Texas State University with his BS in Chemistry. He entered the graduate program at Louisiana State University in Fall of 2007 and joined Professor Robin McCarley’s Lab. William graduated with his doctorate in the fall of 2012 and accepted a position in the Department of Radiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center as a postdoctoral associate. His schedule varies from week to week, depending on tasks that need to be completed.
Holden Smith

Holden T. Smith

BS (UL Monroe ’13), PhD (LSU ’17)
PTD Module and Integration Device Yield Engineer, Intel, Hillsboro, OR

Dr Holden T. Smith hails from Forest, a small town in Northeast Louisiana.  He attended Forest High School in Northeast Louisiana, receiving his high school diploma and an associate’s degree from Louisiana Delta Community College the same week of May 2010. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where he majored in Chemistry, with a concentration in Biochemistry, graduating in May of 2013.  Holden joined the LSU Chemistry Graduate Studies Program in August of 2013. He earned his PhD Degree in only four years, graduating in December of 2017.
ashley taylor

Ashley M. Taylor

BS (Winston-Salem State ’12), MS (LSU ’15) PhD (LSU ’17 )
Specialty Beauty Scientist, Neostrata, Princeton, NJ

Ashley Taylor was born in Queens, New York.  Her parents studied computer engineering (father) and nursing (mother).  When Ashley was 10 years old, they moved to Piscataway, New Jersey, for her father’s job with Colgate R&D.  Growing up, Ashley and her brother were introduced to science fairs, science museums, science books, computer programs and virtually anything science related.  Looking back, Ashley says, “I really thought I would become an astronomer and a chemist in a beauty lab.”  With her parents’ vocational focus, they figured she would become a healthcare professional or an engineer.  She came to realize that “astronomy was more than pretty pictures,” but through twists and turns has recently achieved her ambition of being a scientist in the beauty field.
Dr Kiara Taylor-Edinbyrd

Kiara Taylor-Edinbyrd

BS (TSU), PhD (LSU '16)

Research Scientist in the PhD Professional Development Program at BASF

Dr Kiara Taylor-Edinbyrd was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. After graduation, Kiara taught high school chemistry and physics courses at Arlington Height High School in the Fort Worth Independent School District. Her passion for chemistry was enhanced over time and she decided to join the Department of Chemistry at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and was awarded a Bridge to the Doctorate Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, via the Office of Strategic Initiatives.
Magdalena with Glory

Magdalena Usategui

BS (LSU ’56), MS (LSU ’58), and PhD (LSU ‘61)

Retired, Hoffman LaRoche; Founder, Francis of Assisi Society for Animals

Magdalena Usategui was born and raised in Cuba where her father was a “brilliant lawyer” who died when she was only 12 years old.  Her mother assumed the conventional role of homemaker and cared for her three children.  Young Magdalena was not enthusiastic about the tertiary education opportunities in her homeland and the traditional expectations of women at the time.  Her mother was supportive of her ambitious, youngest child and arranged for her to repeat her senior year of high school at Ravenhill Academy, a private Catholic girls’ high school in Germantown, PA, to improve her English and acclimate her to the USA. 
Andres Villalpando

Andrés Villalpando

BS (Whittier College 2011),  PhD (LSU 2016)

Plant Chemistry, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Chemical Plant

Andrés Villalpando, originally from Poway, California, earned his B.S. in chemistry from Whittier College and Ph.D. in chemistry from LSU.  His graduate research project focused on the development of a novel chlorination method using triphosgene and an amine base to convert aliphatic alcohols into chlorides, which lead to three co-authored publications. After earning is PhD in 2016, Villalpando conducted postdoctoral research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans.  His postdoctoral research focused on the development of enhanced cotton applications, such as the increased absorbent properties of carboxymethylated cotton fibers for their use in nonwoven markets, particularly personal hygiene products. In 2017, Villalpando joined ExxonMobil as a polymer chemist at the Baton Rouge Chemical Plant. In this position, Villalpando served as the Plant Chemist for three polymer units; two rubber units and one resin unit.  Since January 2021, Villalpando is now the Plant Chemist for the IPA unit at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Chemical Plant, home to the largest IPA production in the world. 
Dr. Emanuel Waddell

Emanuel Waddell

BS (Morehouse), PhD (LSU '00)

Associate Dean for the College of Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville

Dr Emanuel Waddell was born and raised in Bull City, also known as Durham, North Carolina. He decided to head south where he attended Morehouse College, an all male HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia. After becoming a “Morehouse man” and completing his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, Emanuel set his compass north and joined the graduate program in Chemistry at the University of Rochester in the State of New York. He completed an MS in Physical Chemistry and then joined the Department of Chemistry at LSU.
Dr. Winnie Wong-Ng

Winnie Wong-Ng

Chinese University of Hong Kong BSc ’69;  LSU PhD ‘74

Senior Research Chemist and Project Leader National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)

Winnie Kwai-Wah Wong-Ng was born in Mainland China and moved to Hong Kong with her family when she was two years old.  She describes herself as an ambitious child and says, “I wanted to have as high an education as I could,even though my family could not afford it.”  Her undergraduate major was Inorganic Chemistry and they used a textbook by LSU Professors Clyde Day and Joel Selbin.  She minored in Physical Chemistry.
Dr Ning Xie

Ning Xie

BS (LSU '07), PhD (LSU '13)

Senior Research Chemist at Sasol Performance Chemicals in Westlake, LA 

Ning Xie was born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA, with a strong family-focus. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Louisiana State University, doing undergraduate research with Professor Bob Hammer. He decided to stay on for his graduate studies in Organic Chemistry, starting Spring 2008. In the summer, he joined Professor Carol Taylor’s research group. As a graduate student, Ning achieved the first synthesis and characterization of an epitope in an allergenic protein (Art v 1) of mugwort, a major cause of hayfever in Europe and North America. Following graduation, Ning accepted a postdoc position at TumorEnd, LLC, in Baton Rouge, LA. His projects involved the multi-step synthesis and characterization of small bioactive molecules for drug target and therapeutic applications.