i-Trek Volunteer Tsehai

Tsehai Grell is a member of the co-founding i-Trek Team. As a volunteer, she finds time to contribute to i-Trek as well as pursue a PhD in Chemistry. Find out more about Tsehai and her contributions to i-Trek.

Hi Tsehai, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Lets start with you telling us about yourself.
My name is Tsehai A.J. Grell and I am originally from the Commonwealth of Dominica. Over the last four years, I have been pursuing chemistry degrees in the United States- I received my B.S. In Chemistry from Morgan State and I am currently a PhD candidate in the Chemistry department at MIT. My research involves understanding the structure and function of Metalloenzymes using x-ray crystallography as the key structure determination tool.

What is your role on the i-Trek team?
I serve as a member of i-Trek’s Trek committee, fundraising committee and Board of Directors.

Why did you want to contribute to the i-Trek Team?
The main deciding factor for choosing between an American over a Caribbean education was the possibility of conducting research, something I knew very little about. My research experiences are the reason I am at MIT today- besides giving me a competitive edge, these experiences solidified whether I really wanted to do research.

I was really excited to to help out with I-Trek’s mission to provide research to non-traditional research opportunities underserved and underrepresented students as I my own trajectory has been greatly influenced by my undergraduate research opportunities. I wanted to be part of an organization that helped to provide research opportunities to students who may not have the resources to do research. I also wanted to help address the issue of the lack of minorities in the graduate STEM fields. As a double minority, a woman and Afro-Caribbean, this directly resonates with me. We have come a long way in diversifying these fields, but there is still a long way to go and I believe that I-Trek can help to do this.

Where do you see i-Trek going in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, I see i-Trek providing research opportunities for about 20 students by running 3-4 Treks simultaneously spanning different STEM fields. I see the program cultivating budding interdisciplinary scientist with strong research, professional and entrepreneurial skills- a new wave of academics that can move seamlessly between all these fields. I hope i-Trek will be recognized as research program that provides strong STEM graduate school candidates.

How did you become interested in STEM?
My interest in the chemistry and research was piqued during an applications of chemistry class that took the general chemistry we learned and put it into an everyday context. Though I had been doing chemistry for about 5 years, I never had the appreciation of the modern day application. This class looked at the recent application of chemistry in medicine, material science, and biology and transformed my thinking of chemistry as an archaic science into a modern one. It was at that point I realized I wanted to be part of this innovation, I wanted to dabble into the unknowns of chemical problems and discover what was yet to be discovered.

What single moment/experience helped to shape your current STEM career?
There are many moments which have collectively shaped my STEM career but one moment that stood out for me was my first summer doing research. I was lucky to be able to do undergraduate research under Dr. Aslan at Morgan State University. Our research aims were to engineer a technique which applied microwave heating and a metal surface to accelerate the crystallIzation of small molecules. It was during this summer I understood that research consist of many failures but the feeling of your project succeeding triumphs over all these failures. Dr. Aslan was an amazing mentor emphasizing not only the chemical knowledge and research technique but also perseverance and passion. Seeing the power of the combination of these four things that summer shaped me into a better scientist,

You were one of the volunteers on the i-Trek Pilot program. What was one highlight from your experience on the Trek?
It was amazing to interact with the students and see the Trek that we have been working on for a year come into fruition. One of the highlights of the experience was accompanying the students on their first data collection trip and seeing how they implemented their methodology and handmade data collection equipment to collect the data needed to answer their scientific problem. It was exciting to see them problem solve between dives to try to improve their data collection methodology and equipment. This is an important skill of a scientist- reflecting on a “bad result” and figuring out how to fix it. This experience showed we are our way to achieving one of our mission, creating an environment that the students could develop scientific skills and helping them become more competitive applicants for graduate school.

Where do you see yourself (career wise) in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years, I hope to see myself pursuing an industrial position, running my own laboratory and doing research that will directly impact the lives of persons.

What kind of things do you like to do in your free time?
During my free time, I enjoy playing sports, hanging out with my friends and reading.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?
I have always like to visit France. Located between two French colonies, Martinique and Guadeloupe, my island has a strong French influence. I have heard a lot about the beauty of France and would love to experience it for my self.