Two graduate students in the Department of Chemistry have been recognized for their outstanding mentorship of multiple undergraduates in their respective chemistry research groups.

Priti Kharel, a sixth-year graduate student in the lab of Pinshane Huang, has been awarded the Gary Schuster Mentoring Scholarship, and Prakriti Das, a fifth-year graduate student in the lab of Scott Silverman, has been awarded the Dr. Sandra Murawski Award for Mentoring Excellence.

The Murawski award in the amount of $1,000 was established by alum Dr. Sandra Murawski (PhD, ’86, Rinehart) who has built a 40-year career in chemistry at P&G and wanted to establish this award to recognize and support excellence in graduate student mentoring.

The Schuster scholarship, also in the amount of $1,000, was established by Dr. De-Kai Loo (PhD, ’87, Beak) and Dr. Jianjian Zhang (PhD, ’89, Schuster) in 2018 in honor of Gary Schuster, professor of chemistry at Illinois from 1975 to 1994. The scholarship recognizes graduate students who demonstrate outstanding mentorship of undergraduate students.


Head shot of Priti Kharel on a white background with a piano in the background
Priti Kharel — Gary Schuster Mentoring Scholarship

Pinshane Huang, a professor of Materials Science and Engineering, said that Kharel has been an exceptional research mentor to two research undergraduates in her research group, Amanda Loutris and Patrick Carmichael.

Under Kharel’s guidance, Huang said both undergraduate researchers have been highly successful. They are co-authors on a publication in Nano Letters and were selected for the Illinois Scholars Undergraduate Research Program.

“In particular, working with Priti has truly fostered a passion for electron microscopy within Patrick. It has been remarkable to watch his transformation from an excited freshman into the most productive undergraduate researcher ever to work in my group,” Huang said. “Patrick now operates at the level of a second- or third-year graduate student, partly due to his exceptional working relationship with Priti.”

Carmichael, who has been accepted to multiple PhD programs with fellowship offers for the fall said Priti consistently supports and motivates him to excel in all facets of research and urging him to strive for excellence in his academic endeavors.

“Her encouragement not only encompasses producing top-tier research but also extends to applying for personal opportunities such as scholarships, conference presentations, and research programs. Her faith in me has driven my motivations, and as a result my accomplishments, to new heights,” said Carmichael, whose collaboration with Kharel on imaging the stacking arrangement of covalent organic frameworks (COFs) led to results representing a significant paradigm shift and important chemical insight regarding COFs.

“This important chemical insight would not have been possible without the incredible team that Priti and Patrick have forged, and they will be first authors on the manuscript currently in preparation,” Huang said.


Head shot of Prakriti Das with steps in the background
Prakriti Das — Dr. Sandra Murawski Award for Mentoring Excellence

In his nomination, Scott Silverman, professor of chemistry, said Das has successfully mentored three undergraduates, including two who are coauthors along with Das on a recent manuscript, and all three undergraduates are headed to chemistry graduate school.

Silverman said Das began mentoring current junior Chemistry major Michelle Bishka in her freshman year, teaching her all aspects of the lab's experimental work.

“With Prakriti’s guidance, Michelle performed many assays that were integral to defining the scope of our lab’s recent publication in Angewandte Chemie on DNA nucleobase N-acylation DNAzymes, which includes both Prakriti and Michelle as coauthors,” Silverman said. “In parallel, Michelle is now leading her own comprehensive research project, in which she seeks new DNAzymes that use small-molecule substrates in such N-acylation reactions. Prakriti’s sustained training and mentorship of Michelle throughout her project has enabled her to contribute to undergraduate research in this way.”

Silverman said Das has also been important in the mentoring of Maria Massa, another junior Chemistry major and co-first author of the lab’s recent Angewandte Chemie manuscript. Das assisted Massa in developing the acyl donor activation conditions that are central to the manuscript.

“For both Michelle and Maria, Prakriti was essential to helping each undergraduate prepare their own separate first-author research posters, which the two students presented not only at internal meetings but also at the ACS Midwest/Great Lakes Regional Meeting in St. Louis in October 2023,” Silverman said.

And now, Das is mentoring Esther Chang, a freshman Biochemistry major who is engaging in her first research experience.

“Prakriti Das has been very successful at her undergraduate research mentorship, helping all three of her mentees to research proficiency and thereby supporting their pathways to graduate school, and for these reasons, Prakriti is an outstanding candidate for our department’s award in undergraduate research mentorship,” Silverman said.