JPEG ImageWe sat down with James Blakemore (left) to learn about his time as a Wichita State Honors student and how his experience benefitted him and his career. 

Name: James Blakemore, 2007 graduate, Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Bachelor of Arts in Spanish with a minor in Russian, Honors Program Graduate

Where are you from? I was born in Wichita, Kansas and attended Wichita High School East. I was a member of the International Baccalaureate Program, and graduated in 2003.

What have you been doing since graduating from WSU? After I graduated from WSU in 2007, I moved to Connecticut to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry at Yale University. I finished my Ph.D. in 2012 and then moved to California, where I was a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In 2016, I started my independent academic career at the University of Kansas. I am now teaching and doing energy and sustainability research at KU in the Department of Chemistry.

When I was at WSU, I had a strong research mentor who helped me find my passion for chemistry. With his guidance, I became very interested in renewable energy and applications of chemistry in sustainability. He helped me to apply to Yale, and when I arrived there, I found research advisors who could further nurture this interest. The story goes onward from there, but the path of my career really started at WSU!

Why did you join Honors? I came to WSU as a very ambitious student, and the opportunities that the College could provide were very valuable. I interacted with professors in smaller courses that both challenged me intellectually and asked me to think critically about the world in new ways. Many of my favorite professors taught my Honors courses, including diverse topics like calculus, physics, and linguistics. These professors were very interactive, and shared their disciplines with us students in very innovative ways. Joining Honors was definitely the right decision!

What did you gain from your Honors experience? I think Honors expanded my view of the world. I completed senior theses in chemistry and also my second major, Spanish—these projects helped me to understand the serious work and reward of independent research. They also showed me that there was a huge world waiting beyond what I had already learned—I confess I’ve been fairly excited about learning new things for quite a while! 

How has your Honors  experience help you in your career? My senior projects taught me about the workflow of research (project design, method development, data analysis, etc.). I’ve definitely continued to use those skills! More broadly, though, the critical thinking skills and broad base of knowledge that I gained through my Honors courses has also been extremely valuable. The challenges I have faced in my career have not often been “textbook” problems—instead, I usually have to apply knowledge from various areas to solve problems in my work.

What Honors resources did you use to further your education? Mentoring is probably the highest on this list. Honors helped me to build my network of mentors at Wichita State, and these wonderful people in turn connected me with opportunities that furthered my career. These opportunities varied from volunteerism opportunities to scholarship competitions and on-campus activities. Some of my mentors, like Prof. Elaine Bernstorf from WSU’s College of Music, are still mentoring me today!

What would you tell someone considering joining the Cohen Honors College? Join! You won’t regret it! The former President of WSU, Dr. Don Beggs, used to encourage students to take advantage of all the University had to offer. This is still good advice today—there are so many wonderful opportunities in Honors today, even more than when I was a student.