Aria Ballance

The liberal arts give you the freedom to grow into your best self and explore different fields that you never thought to try before.

Aria Ballance BA ?19

Pronouns

she/her

Degree and Class Year

BA ’19

Hometown

Santa Barbara, California

Major

Chemistry

Minor

Theatre

Extracurriculars

Backpacking, climbing, camping, painting, paddle club, improv troupe

Overseas study

India

What three words would you use to describe L&C?

Passionate, Engaging, Creative

Congratulations on your National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship! How did it feel when you got the news?

I still can’t believe I was awarded this fellowship! I almost didn’t apply as I was going through a difficult time when the application was due. I think that’s why I was so shocked when I received the email. I immediately forwarded my acceptance letter to the professor I work for at the University of Utah, Dr. Jennifer Shumaker-Parry, and she called me to tell me that the email was real, and that it was not some elaborate prank. I feel like in the research world, successful experiments are few and far between. Getting this award has made me realize that what I am doing does matter, even if it blows up in my face, literally.

What do you plan to study in graduate school?

My research currently examines gold nanoparticles and their interactions with the electromagnetic field. My goal is to be able to optimize plasmons in nanoparticles to improve chiral detection. The application I wrote for the fellowship was about detecting life outside of our solar system by studying molecules in meteorites using the nanoparticles I fabricate.

How did Lewis & Clark prepare you for this new adventure?

L&C requires and encourages students to take courses outside of their field. I think this approach helps students to learn how to solve problems from several different angles. This has been a huge asset for me in the science world. Even the theatre classes I took helped me think of new experiments to try in the lab as well as how to breathe and be present with my work.

Now that you’ve been out of college for a while, what would you say is the most important thing you learned at Lewis & Clark?

How to take care of my mental health. I didn’t even know that was a thing before I came to L&C. It is so easy to get caught up in the frenzy of students trying to get into medical and graduate school where you feel like everyone around you is constantly working. Very few of the all-nighters I pulled in undergrad involved me being productive that entire time. Our brains need rest and things that make us happy to function. I can’t count the number of times I almost switched majors or gave up completely when I was going through a rough time. It still happens, but it passes. I don’t even remember most of those difficult times anymore, maybe because I blocked them out! Historically speaking, it always works itself out, so I try not to spend too much time overthinking setbacks.

How do you describe the liberal arts?

The liberal arts give you the freedom to grow into your best self and explore different fields that you never thought to try before.

Why did you major in chemistry?

Chemistry is such a beautiful and complicated dragon to fight. On the one hand, you have incredible research that is being produced every day, while on the other you have years of hard work that can result in nothing but failed attempts. However, I have learned that even failures are successes. They tell a story and help future scientists learn so they don’t make the same mistakes. It’s a long and engaging process that cannot be done alone. My favorite interactions I have with my lab partners are the bonding moments we share when an experiment did not go as planned.

For a while, it baffled me why a subject that was originally so hard for me to grasp became what I wanted to learn and be a part of for the rest of my life. I found the solution through my love of theatre. As an actor on stage, you are constantly having to pay attention to everything around you; all your senses are on, you are ready for anything, and you are constantly responding to your environment. I carry these same thoughts and feelings with me into the laboratory. There is not one moment when you can tune out or look the other way. Chemistry keeps me engaged in a way that no other subject has the potential to do. I am a person who is filled to the brim with passion about science; studying and researching chemistry is my perfect fit.

Where did you find community on campus?

The theatre department was an amazing, safe space for me to go and escape. Coming to college, I thought I would have to give up my love for theatre to focus on my major. However, everyone in the theatre department was so friendly and excited to have me be part of their beautiful family. I was also, surprisingly, not the only STEM major in the theatre department. I think that is what makes L&C so special, I didn’t meet a single student there who was only focused on their major. Students from L&C are some of the busiest students I have ever met. I think a big part of this is because we were all part of so many different communities. In the beginning, I had only planned to take one theatre class at L&C. However, the community I found there was one of the most incredible, creative families I have ever been a part of, and I will always be so grateful to them for their unwavering love.

Who was your mentor on campus? Why do you consider this person your mentor?

I am so grateful to have had two incredible mentors who continue to give me advice even after I graduated L&C. Dr. Julio de Paula was my thesis and major advisor from day one. He constantly encouraged and pushed me to go find the answers but also learn how to grow from the mistakes I made along the way. One of my favorite memories of Julio is when I came to his office at the end of my freshmen year to discuss which classes I should take next year. When I showed him the draft of my schedule he frowned, then looked up at me and asked, “Where are your theatre classes?”

Associate Professor Rebecca Lingafelter is a force of nature. She was instrumental in my undergraduate education. She taught me how to breathe through my work and be aware of the world around me. These two lessons alone completely changed me as a person and chemist, and I will forever be grateful for her wisdom. If you get the chance, I highly recommend taking one of her classes, listening to one of her lectures, or seeing a show she is directing in Portland. You can always feel the overwhelming amount of love and energy she has put into her work and it is truly something magical.