Eleven students will comprise the first graduating class from Northern Michigan University's medicinal plant chemistry program, which made its debut in fall 2017 as the only four-year degree of its kind to combine experimental horticulture and advanced analytical chemistry with an optional entrepreneurial track.
The program is designed to prepare students for success in emerging industries related to medicinal plant production, analysis and distribution.
“It has been a joy to work with this graduating class as they moved through the program,” said Mark Paulsen, head of the Chemistry Department. “The newly constructed Shimadzu Medicinal Plant lab opened just in time for these students to use it during their senior year. That hands-on experience with cutting-edge instrumentation has positioned them well for jobs as they leave NMU. The networking that these students have been able to do through our medicinal plant chemistry seminar series has also given them a head start on their careers.
“We are already planning for next year. It looks like our graduating class next year will be at least triple the size of this year's cohort. We anticipate another large entering class in the fall. Over 200 freshman and transfer students have been admitted for August.”
Following are comments from some of the graduates who responded to interview requests:
Andrew Hilliard, Manistee, Mich.: “I actually started at NMU for microbiology with an interest in antibiotic resistance and synthetic biology. The analytical med plant program had the tools and know-how to analyze the complex samples I was starting to learn about, and I realized it was the better path in the long run, considering my interests. I've been an intern for Orion GMP Solutions as an analytical biochemistry consultant for cannabis industry applications the last four months. When I'm not helping specific client needs, Orion assigns me to view analytical webinars and write articles for their website. I'm currently transitioning to a full-time employee for them and planning to take a couple years to work and relax. Eventually I plan to continue my education in graduate school. I want to study metabolic/enzyme engineering for synthetic biology, guided by the lens of analytical med plant feedback, with a goal of helping to produce medications at the lowest price point possible.”
Josie Mollohan of Waterford, Mich., who is evaluating her career options: “This is something I wanted to study since I was a kid. I've had a huge interest in medicinal plants and herbs, and their impact on human health, since I was about 9 years old. As a teenager, I made own tinctures, extractions and had an herb garden. My other passion was chemistry in middle school. Getting to mix the two in college was honestly like a dream for me. I couldn't have imagined or designed a program that was more perfect for myself. They did an awesome job.”
Geoff Dickinson, St. Could, Minn. “I was already a chemistry student at NMU and joined this program in my junior year. I was always fascinated with plants. I didn't know a lot about the biochemistry of them and that part really interested me. It was a difficult program, but very rewarding. I learned a lot of necessary skills I will be hopefully using in the near future. I plan on applying for jobs as an analytical chemist at a testing facility for cannabis, looking at THC levels and other metabolites as well, including pesticide levels. With commencement postponed, I'll be having an at-home graduation ceremony with my family.”
Adam Litsky, Marlboro, N.J.: “A neighbor friend sent a news article to me about Northern's program. I looked into it and decided it was the right fit. I was already studying biology at a community college and made the perfect transfer. NMU's program is pretty comprehensive. You get all the chemistry knowledge you need to be working in any chemical industry job. This also has added benefit of specialized knowledge to prepare you for the cannabis industry. I plan on working in a cannabis lab doing extractions and being a part of the greater industry. I don't have a position yet, but I feel prepared to work in that field from my training in the program. I'm looking to stay here in New Jersey, where we have a medicinal program, but we're not yet part of the recreational scene.”
Kevin DeSorbo, Clifton Park, N.Y.: “I already had an associate degree in biotechnology, so I transferred to Northern as a junior and all of those credits transferred. I was really interested in learning about the different medicinal compounds in plants. We definitely learned a lot of good information and had a good experience with analytical machinery. Both will prepare us for the industry and getting jobs later. I'm not worried about getting a job. There are a wide variety of job titles I could apply for and potentially have as my career later, whether working in a lab, cultivating/growing plants or being a manager and overseeing projects.”