Even as the daughter of a UToledo alumna, Veronica Martin’s choice in where to pursue her own higher education was not necessarily clear.
While there was the opportunity to establish a mother-daughter UToledo legacy — her mom, Cecelia Martin, received a bachelor of science in pharmacy in 1992 — she also was being pushed to apply to a “huge” university based on her academic success at a private Catholic high school in Cleveland.
And now, several years and two degrees later, Martin knows that choosing UToledo is “one of the best decisions I have ever made.”
This includes her time in the UToledo-University of Salford Exchange Program, in which selected UToledo biological sciences, biochemistry, environmental sciences and physics majors spend their junior year at Salford in Manchester, England, as part of their degree program.
“Not only was I able to participate in the Salford Exchange program but I am able to engage directly with professors who are committed to both my personal and professional development,” she said. “I made the decision to pursue a graduate degree at this university based on those mentors, and I am already reaping the reward.”
Now 22 and pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry, Martin received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry last spring, when she was recognized as “Outstanding Graduating Student” and received the “American Institute of Chemists Foundation Award for Outstanding Graduating Senior and the Dean’s Medal.”
While she is still considering her future — a career combining her technical background with her passion for communicating with others — her road to the present began with her past participation in a 4H program from the age of 11 through 18.
“I think my engagement in this program really helped me to find my love for science,” Martin said. “Through this program, I discovered not only my interest in medicine and how the body physiologically functions but also my passion for working with children to explore their own passions and dreams.”
“Wonderful mentors” at UToledo have also played a significant role in her academic and personal growth, including Dr. Maxwell Funk, a Distinguished University Professor of chemistry and a faculty emeritus.
“A large reason I found a passion for biochemistry is a direct result of meeting Dr. Maxwell Funk in my senior year,” she said. “Not only was I able to engage in research that was interesting to me, but I got to work with and learn directly from a distinguished professor. It was this amazing opportunity that really changed how I looked at my future career path — suddenly, the idea of completing a Ph.D. seemed much more realistic. Dr. Funk really helped to solidify the confidence I have in myself and the work I produce; and without his wonderful mentorship and dedication, I am positive I would not be in this position today.
“I was introduced to my current advisor, Dr. Timothy Mueser, as well as my fellow graduate student, Victoria Drago, through a Biophysical Chemistry course I took my senior year. I have the utmost respect for these two individuals in terms of their work ethic and devotion to the advancement of science. I feel honored to be able to learn something from them every day!
Mueser, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the UToledo College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said the new biochemistry degree is growing rapidly and attracting students like Veronica who are interested in understanding living organisms at the molecular level.
“Veronica had an exceptional undergraduate career and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. with an emphasis in Molecular Biophysics. Normally, it is wise for a student to get experience from multiple universities,” Mueser said. “However, her work is highly collaborative and will go far beyond the boundaries of the University. Our collaborations include Wayne State University, Atomwise, UC Riverside, UC Davis, University of Georgia, Oak Ridge National Labs, Institute Laue Langevin, and hopefully another venture with the International Space Station.”
Martin said her time away from UToledo in the Salford Exchange Program, during the 2018-19 academic year, was also meaningful.
“I was blessed to experience another part of the world before the pandemic hit,” she said. “While I was there, I made some of my best friends. I spent countless hours with them, they took me home with them and showed me their own ways, and I still FaceTime almost every other day with them.
“I also met a lot of transient individuals through my travels who imparted lots of wisdom on me. There is a special type of bond you form with other people when you are both out of your comfort zone,” Martin added. “I learned that most people truly want to connect with others, and sometimes, if you just make a small effort in reaching out to someone, there is a massive reward. I still carry these lessons with me and strive to learn something from each person I talk to.”
While at Salford, she engaged in therapeutic-based cancer research under the guidance of Dr. James Wilkinson.
“Working with Dr. Wilkinson and some of his graduate students reinforced the idea that although people and their culture are different everywhere you go, science itself is not. When I headed back to Toledo, I felt I had learned how to communicate my ideas in a more confident and eloquent manner than when I left.”
She also had time to during her year at Salford to travel throughout Europe, visiting 20 countries: Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Greece, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Poland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Despite all her success as a UToledo student, Martin said it’s those difficult challenges in life, especially those that she wasn’t always able to overcome but learned from, that she prefers to define her.
“Research is really hard. Leaving my home to live in another country alone was really hard,” she said. “Life is a series of mistakes and failures, but I only find more motivation in these failures to explore a new route to success.
“I think that’s why I am loving graduate school so far — it is helping to teach me how to get back up even quicker when I fall down.”