Hawbaker Has the Right Chemistry
On that September morning in 2005 when Hurricane Rita was headed to Houston, Nicole Hawbaker showed up at the chemistry lab as usual – one hour before classes at UST were officially canceled. The place was a ghost town, except for one other person.
“I thought it was hilarious, just me and a security guard,” the 23-year-old graduate in chemistry said.
She quickly turned off all of the lab’s equipment and made her way back home in west Houston, still chuckling.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Dr. Thomas Malloy, who taught Hawbaker off and on during her five years at UST, hired her as a teaching assistant in physical chemistry lab and worked with her on community outreach events as the advisor to UST’s student affiliate of the American Chemistry Society. “Her strongest points are her enthusiasm and her positive attitude. And her first reaction to anything is to smile.”
That smile – and her infectious enthusiasm and passion for chemistry – made Hawbaker stand out early among her fellow students. And she never turned down a volunteer community outreach event for the chemistry society in which students conducted science demonstrations at area elementary schools, Malloy said.
“I’ve got pictures from all those events, and she’s in almost every one of them,” he said.
Dr. Bill Tinnerman, Hawbaker’s faculty advisor for the past four years, said Hawbaker is, “very reliable; she has a good work ethic; she enjoys doing chemistry; and she likes helping people. She is quick to help any faculty member with anything that needs to be done in the lab,” including overlapping T.A. jobs in physical and organic chemistry.
That’s because, Hawbaker said, the faculty in the chemistry department “have been like a family to me. I never thought a group of people would care that much for my success or well-being.”
Her success will no doubt continue at Texas A&M, which she will attend as a graduate student in the Ph.D. program in chemistry. Hawbaker received a full scholarship to Texas A&M the covers tuition, fees, lab costs plus a paid $25,000 fellowship.
She will be the first member of her family to take graduate courses and the first to study science.
Her favorite place on campus is the chemistry lab, where she worked weekends in addition to her weekday schedule whenever she was asked.
“If the department ever needs anything, they know they can call me 24/7,” she said.
Her mother, an executive assistant who raised Nicole single-handedly, “always put education at the forefront,” the future Aggie said. “She pushed me really hard.”
Hawbaker attended the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, where she hated chemistry. Her original chemistry teacher there moved to another job shortly into her class, and he was followed by a string of five substitutes in one school year. “I had to adapt to the different teaching styles and try to keep up with the curriculum,” she said. “I thought I hated chemistry until I got to St. Thomas, but I discovered my love for it as a freshman. Everything seemed to fall together.”
At Malloy’s urging, she looked into Texas A&M’s graduate program in chemistry, and she’s excited about furthering her studies.
“She’ll do very well there,” Malloy said. “Anybody she’s around, her enthusiasm is contagious. She gets the faculty enthused and any students she’s around. You just can’t help getting psyched when you’re around her.”