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May 13, 2020

SVSU class of 2020: Saginaw native excels mixing chemistry with community engagement

Saginaw native Vincent Flores’ drive and determination push him to make an impact through his undergraduate research efforts so that he can positively influence the community he calls home. 
 
The Saginaw Valley State University senior’s passion for science was sparked while he was a student at Nouvel Catholic Central High School in Saginaw. Being in the lab inspired him to pursue a chemistry major and mathematics minor at SVSU. 
 
“I loved being in the chemistry lab conducting experiments and I wanted to continue that in college,” said Flores. 
 
Flores knew that, if he wanted to maximize his time in the lab, he would need to go to a university that supported undergraduate research. He found what he was looking for just a few miles from where he grew up. 
 
“I chose SVSU because I believed this is where I would have the most opportunities to grow as a person and as a chemistry major. Specifically, I believed I would be able to get into a research group sooner and have more independence in the lab and have more control over my research project,” said Flores. 
 
Once he started at SVSU, Flores didn’t waste any time getting involved. He joined the chemistry club as a freshman, and eventually served as the president as an upperclassman. 
 
As part of his involvement in the club, he found ways to empower youth in the Great Lakes Bay Region to discover their own passion for science. He helped coordinate several community outreach events at SVSU, including Girl Scout Stemapalooza and STEM KIDposium. 
 
His commitment to serving his community didn’t stop there. Flores also joined the Richard V. Wolohan Fellowship, one of SVSU’s programs of distinction. This fellowship is named for a local Saginaw-based business owner who dedicated his life to community leadership, and the program strives to continue this legacy. 
 
This has included various projects to give back to the Great Lakes Bay Region, including a free book-sharing exchange program. 
 
“We organized a book drive and held a dedication for the opening of our group’s Little Free Library in January of 2020 at the SVRC Marketplace in Saginaw,” said Flores. 
 
Despite his busy schedule, Flores found every opportunity he could to don a lab coat and use a microscope. He started conducting research experiments during his first year at SVSU, which is an opportunity few undergraduate students have at most other universities. 
 
Flores recently presented his findings for one of his research projects at SVSU’s annual undergraduate research showcase. While the symposium is typically an in-person event, it was adapted to an online platform due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
“My research project addresses a lack in understanding of well-known compounds that have pharmaceutical applications. The purpose of my research is to study the basic interactions of organic complexes that have the ability to donate nitric oxide to biologically relevant metals,” said Flores. 
 
By studying metal-containing compounds that rearrange to have nitric oxide attached to them within the human body, Flores’ findings can have potentially far reaching significance for improving anti-fungal and anti-viral medications. 
 
The rapid spread of COVID-19 also inspired Flores to use his skills to support his community.

“I was part of the team at SVSU who made about 300 gallons of hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said Flores. 
 
Saginaw-based Old Town Distillery donated 270 gallons of 190-proof alcohol to SVSU for the project, which Flores and his team used to make hand sanitizer. This disinfectant is a key element to fighting the spread of this disease, so once it was bottled, Flores’ team donated all of it to local area health professionals. 
 
Gaining extensive hands-on research experience played a key role in helping Flores earn other opportunities to advance his skills. 
 
He participated in two summer internships: one with the Dow Science & Sustainability Education Center at SVSU and the other at Cornell University in Ithica, New York. 
 
These experiences solidified his dedication to chemistry and empowered him to further his education. He persevered in his academics and research, setting his sights on graduate school. 
 
“SVSU has given me opportunities and resources I needed to get to where I am today. My professors -- especially my research advisor, Dr. Adam Warhausen -- have done their best to teach me everything I need to know to be prepared for graduate school. The knowledge and wisdom they have imparted on me will be valuable throughout the rest of my life,” said Flores. 
 
After graduating from SVSU with his bachelor’s degree this month, Flores will be attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. He plans to continue in the footsteps of his supportive and connected mentors at SVSU by becoming a college professor himself. 
 
Flores is excited to keep moving forward and take on even more challenges, but he is also reflecting back on the experiences that brought him to where he is today and the community he is leaving behind. 
 
“Saginaw Valley State University has been my home for the past four years. While I will be sad to leave, I will forever be thankful for the experiences and people I have met here,” said Flores. 
 
“The entire chemistry department has been like a second family and I will miss everyone that I have met during my time at SVSU.”