As music wafts into his office from the lab next door and he makes suggestions to one of his research assistants, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kevin Rice is aware that he is sitting where he sat several years ago—only this time, in a different chair. “This desk is where my research mentor sat,” he said. “I took notes in the same classes that I now teach in.”
Students take a white-water rafting break after presenting their work during the Colby Undergraduate Summer Research Retreat, started by Rice in 2007.
Having graduated from Colby in 1996, Rice feels fortunate to experience Colby from a different perspective and to use his previous experience of Colby to help his students. “It’s a completely different experience. I feel like I am touched by the same special place, but I am being touched in an entirely different way.” he said. “I feel like I am part of a community that is dedicated to helping students in their own self-improvement.”
His familiarity with Colby made the transition much smoother, and it meant he could understand and work with Colby students in a unique way—both in the classroom and in the lab. “He clearly understood what he was getting into,” said his colleague Whitney King, also a chemistry professor. “He had no start-up time in terms of understanding the Colby student. He hit the ground running. ... He knew what courses they are taking because he took them.”
Straight after graduating from Colby, Rice pursued his love of enzymes and chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry. Returning happened more out of luck than purpose. While Rice was working at Yale, a colleague there showed him a job posting for a visiting assistant professor at Colby.
He came back in 2005, and a few years later his enthusiasm for research and his realization of the constraints research students have during the semester led him to start the Colby Undergraduate Summer Research Retreat (CUSRR). “For the students who are involved in scholarship it’s really tough to get stuff done during the semester. There’s just a lot of competing drags on your time,” Rice said, “and the summer is an opportunity.”
At the two-day retreat held at The Forks, Maine, students present their summer research projects through talks and poster presentations and go white-water rafting the next day. Rice’s Colby roommate, Rob Peabody ’96, owns the rafting company where students let loose and bond. “We just want to create a culture during the summer that is intense but fun,” Rice said, and “to deepen the summer experience, to make it a rich, fun experience for the students who are involved in scholarship.” Having been a student researcher himself studying organic synthesis, Rice passes on valuable skills to his students—skills he learned as a Colby student.
“He helped me grow as a scientist,” said Lindsay Dale ’12.
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kevin Rice ’96 works on cancer research in his lab with Alex Boches ’11, top, and Rachel Guerra ’13
His students also have the opportunity to work on research that addresses a major health concern: cancer. At Colby Rice continues research on the leukemia drug Laromustine, which he began studying in the pharmacology department at Yale. “We’ve identified how our drug stops DNA repair processes in cancer cells, and that could lead to cancer cell death,” said Rice. “If we can figure out how this drug works … we can understand how a chemist might make this drug even better. We can identify differences from one patient to the next that could make one patient a better candidate for that drug. Ultimately they are very small pieces of the grand puzzle that is cancer research.”
Even beyond the classroom and lab, Rice’s previous Colby experience helps him connect better with his students. “Because he went to Colby he understands the stresses we have,” said Dale. His students also enjoy his insights on Colby based on his time here. “He tells great stories about his days at Colby,” said Joseph Bellairs ’11. “It is great to connect with him about that stuff.”
And, now, ensuring that his students do well beyond Colby is a top priority for Rice. Rice’s students have gone on to medical schools and Ph.D. programs and into important research after Colby. Among the many successful grads who started in Rice’s lab are Jenn Bushee ’08, a scientist at the international pharmaceutical company Novartis, and Adam Paine ’10, a post-baccalaureate researcher at the National Institutes of Health. “When I think of the future, honestly what I think most about is what my students are doing in five years or ten years. That’s what really excites me,” said Rice. “Ultimately that’s how I measure myself.”