Two Graduates Of Danbury's WestConn Heading To Elite Doctoral Programs

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Patrick Finneran (left) and Thomas Pickel pose in a chemistry laboratory at the WCSU Science Building on the university's Midtown campus in Danbury.
Patrick Finneran (left) and Thomas Pickel pose in a chemistry laboratory at the WCSU Science Building on the university's Midtown campus in Danbury. Photo Credit: WCSU/Peggy Stewart

DANBURY, Conn. – Two graduates from Western Connecticut State University in Danbury will pursue their doctorate degrees through two of the nation’s most elite programs in the fall. 

Patrick Finneran, of Oakville, will study biochemistry and biophysics at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Thomas Pickel, of Bethel, will study organometallic chemistry at Emory University in Atlanta.

Both students, who earned bachelor’s degrees in chemistry in May, served as research assistants to faculty members at WCSU.

With Assistant Professor of Chemistry J. Helena Prieto, Finneran engaged in laboratory research that focused on the plasmodium falciparum, a protozoan parasite transmitter of malaria to humans. Together, they determined the underpinnings of a cellular pathway that can program cell death in the parasite. Understanding this parasite may be crucial in developing effective pharmaceuticals for treating malaria, according to a press release.

“I was very lucky to work with such an enthusiastic student,” said Prieto in a press release. “He put all his energy into everything he did. He was instrumental in setting up my research lab during my first year at Western, and for that I am grateful.”

Pickel worked with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Nicholas J. Greco to conduct research on the synthetic modification of DNA as a means to explore DNA activity within biological systems. This work can have significant applications in the development of drug treatments for viral diseases, according to a press release.

“Thomas was a dream to have in my laboratory,” said Greco in a press release. “He cared deeply about his project and pushed himself much further than I could have pushed him. As much as Thomas grew as a student, I grew more as a mentor.”

Finneran is considering the academic field, the pharmaceutical industry and other disciplines that may follow his time at Brandeis. 

“I’ll complete my PhD program and then I’ll see where I go from there,” Finneran said in a press release.

Pickel is also keeping an open mind on career opportunities.

“The field of organometallic chemistry is very new and very exciting,” Pickel said in a press release. “It holds almost limitless possibilities to explore the development of synthetic goods in energy, medicines and other areas.”

Finneran and Pickel will receive full-tuition scholarships, stipends, and other benefits from their graduate schools.

Greco, who taught both students, expressed excitement for his former students’ futures.

“I am confident they will go on to make WCSU proud,” Greco said in a press release.

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