Class of 2019: Danielle Maxwell, inspired to teach

Danielle Maxwell's Detroit Mercy experience led her to unexpected paths.
Danielle Maxwell’s Detroit Mercy experience led her to unexpected paths.

Danielle Maxwell is thankful for the relationships she built with her professors while at University of Detroit Mercy. In fact, she was so inspired by her professors it’s motivated her to pursue a career as a chemistry professor.

“The chemistry department at Detroit Mercy is like my second family,” Maxwell said. “All of the professors and administrative staff in the department are very welcoming, and they create a great environment for learning and growth.”

Maxwell graduated from Detroit Mercy with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry over the weekend. In the fall, she will begin working on her Ph.D. in Chemistry with a concentration in Chemical Education at the University of Michigan.

“After being at Detroit Mercy for the past four years, I have come to appreciate higher education. To pursue a career as a professor, a Ph.D. is required, so I decided to focus on Chemical Education,” Maxwell said. “It’s a field of chemistry that I have not formally studied at Detroit Mercy, but I’m excited to learn more about it. Chemistry education studies the teaching and learning of chemistry in secondary and higher education institutions.”

During her time at the University, she enjoyed interacting one-on-one with professors and the way they extended learning beyond the classroom.

“The learning environment that you’re put into at Detroit Mercy is quite unique,” Maxwell said. “A lot of the classes here are service-learning based and small in size. With courses like these, you can get the individual attention that you need to succeed, and of course, give back to the community. There is so much to do in Detroit.

“I’m hoping to teach at a place like Detroit Mercy where you can integrate service learning into the classroom.”

Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Matthew Mio said Maxwell was the type of student who would work late into the night in the lab and still be the first one at breakfast in the morning. He’s excited she wants to go into higher education.

“Danielle will make an excellent educator someday because she cares deeply about the learning process,” Mio said. “For her, it’s not just about chemistry, it’s about the learning journey as well.”

Maxwell enjoyed engaging in research throughout her undergraduate career and got the opportunity to work on several different projects.

“It’s exciting because you don’t really know what lies ahead,” she said. “You’re at the edge of whatever is new. Whatever you find might be the key to something else. One of my favorite parts about research was going to local and national conferences to present my research and learn about other projects.”

She worked on SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science), spent a summer conducting research at Cornell University last year and has put in a massive amount of work on a crayfish project at Detroit Mercy.

“My biggest project here has been a crayfish project with Dr. (Kendra) Evans and Dr. (Rachelle) Belanger,” Maxwell said. “We are analyzing the accumulation of atrazine, which is an herbicide, in crayfish. Atrazine is used in the United States on many of our crops, but it has been banned in the European Union for its numerous negative side effects. Our project consists of quantitating how much atrazine we can find in the hepatopancreas and muscle tissue of crayfish, measurements that correlate to how much atrazine is found in our freshwater sources.”

Maxwell earned the 2019 Science Student of the Year award, which is awarded to the most outstanding graduating chemistry, biology, mathematics or computer science student.

“I am very honored to have received this award,” she said. “The recipient of the Science Student of the Year Award is chosen by nominations from their peers and faculty. The dean of the College of Engineering and Science, Dr. Katherine Snyder, kept this nomination hidden from me for several weeks, so when I received the award, I was shocked.”

Maxwell also earned the Senior Student Leader of the Year, which is given to a student who demonstrates leadership qualities in multiple areas on campus.

“Danielle has meant a great deal to the Chemistry Club and the Department of Chemistry from her very first semester here,” Mio said. “She has served as a Chem Club officer multiple years, including president during our 80th anniversary year, and has been an RA for three years. She has been a lab TA, worked with Engineering and Science Student Council, and many other campus-based projects.”

Coming to Detroit Mercy also influenced Maxwell’s spiritual life.

“Before coming to Detroit Mercy, I wasn’t very interested in religion and I was kind of nervous about it being a Catholic institution, but after spending some time with Ministry and going on various retreats, my horizons were opened to what my faith can be,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell credits her experience as an RA in Shiple Hall for helping her break out of her shell and helping prepare her for a leadership role.

“It’s been a very educational and rewarding experience to say the least,” she said. “I’ve had more than 150 residents while I’ve been at Detroit Mercy, and I’ve had the privilege to watch them develop over the course of their years. I became an RA because I enjoy meeting new people and I wanted to break out of my shell a little bit. Being an RA, if any of my residents had an issue, they could come to me and get their problems resolved as much as possible. Additionally, I got to organize many fun and educational programs for my residents, and work with some of my closest friends.”

Maxwell also enjoyed being a mentor for the Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) residents.

“I was the WISE floor RA for a few years, so a lot of my residents who were taking chemistry or biology courses would come to me for academic help,” she said. “Or sometimes they would want some advising help, such as, ‘What class should I take?’ Being the WISE floor RA was really fun because I could shape the floor community to what my residents’ career aspirations were.”

Maxwell also enjoyed being a positive role model for children and worked for three years on a
FCCP (Ford Community Corps Partnership) project called Healthy Kids Camp. First she volunteered, and then helped organize it for two years.

“We went out into the community and educated kids about living healthy lifestyles,” Maxwell said. “We brought them here for weekend camps and went to some of the schools for events. It’s very rewarding to see how their lives can be changed by that kind of service. You’re just a small part of their life, but it can be so impactful.”

Most of all, she is thankful for everything she’s learned at Detroit Mercy, even things she wasn’t necessarily looking for.

“It’s been the educational experience of a lifetime for me. My time at Detroit Mercy has been quite different than what I thought it was going to be going in,” Maxwell said. “The small, tight-knit community that we have here is very important to me. As a science major you need to know your stuff, but taking that next step and saying, ‘Ok, now that you know the science, how can you better the world?’ that was a huge part of my education.”

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