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Tyler Rockwood is finishing up his 4+1 master’s degree in biochemistry and medicinal chemistry in the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University. The Phoenix native was the recipient of the Wayne W. Luchsinger Chemistry Scholarship, an award that gives preference to veterans of one of the U.S. military services.
Rockwood enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve during his senior year of high school and left for boot camp just 10 days after graduation. While friends were hanging out and enjoying their last carefree days before heading off to college or looking for jobs, Rockwell was hitting the adulthood ground running in the military.
For Rockwood, the scholarship is the reason he is able to pursue a graduate degree. He credits Nick Stephanopoulos, assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, for bringing the scholarship to his attention and encouraging him to apply for it.
Since Rockwood served in the reserves, it meant he could only receive a partial GI Bill; though extremely helpful, it still left him responsible for thousands of dollars in tuition each semester. Despite having very little income, FAFSA determined him ineligible for any need-based assistance based on his previous employment.
“For me the scholarship was necessary to even be here, but even for those who have tuition covered there are many other living expenses that can require nearly full-time work outside of school," said Rockwell. “That work comes at the expense of time that could be spent doing research which will benefit the whole world. Scholarships allow us to get an education, but that education isn’t just for the sake of learning. It is to help us make real changes in the world.”
In 2010, Rockwell was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was part of a convoy security platoon. That experience changed him more than his other time in the military — and in a better way than he could have imagined.
“It taught me to be confident in myself and my decisions, and helped me become comfortable with the person I am,” said Rockwell. “It’s also the reason I have the work ethic I have now, which has helped me get to where I am.”
Rockwell is doing research in Stephanopoulos’ lab, working on coating DNA nanostructures with polymers and peptides in order to enhance their targeting and uptake by cells, for applications in drug delivery or other biomedical applications.
“Tyler is in my lab, and has been working with me first as an undergraduate and now as a 4+1 master's student,” said Stephanopoulos. “He's spectacular, really smart and independent, and the kind of student I would have loved to keep on for a PhD.”
Rockwell will graduate in December and is looking to apply his degree and knowledge in industrial research, but he doesn’t rule out a return to academia — possibly teaching high school chemistry.
“I hope to advance the current treatment options for a variety of diseases through research into new drug-delivery methods,” said Rockwell. “Targeted medicine is a powerful tool, and the more we know the easier it will be to put it to use. I want to do my part to make that a reality.”
Learn more about the Wayne W. Luchsinger Chemistry Scholarship or other scholarships offered by the School of Molecular Sciences.