Marshall Ph.D. student receives Chancellor’s Scholarship
Tenacious. Passionate. Driven. These are the words that Sean Piwarski uses to describe himself.
Piwarski is this year’s recipient of the Chancellor’s Scholarship, given to a student in Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program. The Chancellor’s Scholar Program is intended to recruit, educate and graduate underrepresented minority students in doctoral programs. It offers a substantial tuition benefit and stipend as well as professional research and career development opportunities and a strong support network. Further, it aims to provide support as the student transitions from his or her education into university faculty or administration roles.
Piwarski grew up in a bilingual, Hispanic household in California. He said that when he was a youngster, his mother provided “a lot of love” that allowed him to take risks and explore boundaries, while ensuring that he remained polite and stayed on the right path. He was recruited to California Lutheran University on a football scholarship, where he double-majored in biology and chemistry.
One of his biggest influences was Dr. John Tannaci, who taught organic chemistry at California Lutheran, and to Piwarski’s surprise, made it fun and relatable. Piwarski said that was not something that he often found in his science courses, so one of his goals is to bring that level of passion and interest to a new generation.
With his strong science background, Piwarski came to Marshall University to obtain his master’s degree in forensic science, focusing on toxicology and drug chemistry. In deciding how to apply the knowledge and skills gained through that program, he realized that a Ph.D. was the logical next step, particularly with the interdisciplinary, team-based science program offered at Marshall.
Currently in his third year of a program that typically takes 5 to 6 years to complete, Piwarski is working with Dr. Travis Salisbury in the Toxicology and Environmental Health Sciences cluster. His research focuses on determining how certain chemical mechanisms in specific toxins may work to stop cancer metastasis. He said it is a subject close to his heart, since several of his family members have lost battles with cancer.
Piwarski said that being the first Hispanic student to receive the Chancellor’s Scholarship is “very humbling,” and gives him the opportunity to pursue his passions. He also said he believes that it gives validation to exploring his scientific ideas. When he was younger, he noticed that certain classes were considered to be only for the “smart people.”
“Science isn’t so much about being the smartest person in the room; it’s about tenacity,” Piwarski said. “Try out creative ideas and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to further what is possible.”
Once he completes the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program, Piwarski says he will pursue an academic position where he can put the “swagger in science” and stimulate the same passion and drive for excellence in others.
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