Science has always been part of Jihan Schepmann’s ’24 life. From conducting science experiments with her family during the summers at a young age, to developing a passion for chemistry in high school then gaining real-world laboratory experience at Southwestern, it should come as no surprise that Schepmann is about to take her educational journey to the next level.

The recent biochemistry graduate was accepted into the prestigious Organic Chemistry Ph.D. Program at UT Southwestern’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in Dallas. As a Ph.D. candidate in one of U.S. News & World Report’s best grad schools in the nation for chemistry, Schepmann will be able to further combine her passion for science with her desire to make a lasting impact.

“Going into college, I was interested in pursuing a healthcare profession so that I could improve the lives of others,” Schepmann said. “Wanting to go into a career where I could help others was a huge focal point for me. In my sophomore year, I took organic chemistry with Dr. Gezinski and was captivated by the ability to build new molecules. Through my participation in summer REUs, I realized that I loved being in the lab and was excited to find that I could combine my passion for research with my desire to help others by designing and synthesizing novel therapeutic treatments.”

During her time at Southwestern, Schepmann was able to participate in a variety of REUs — Research Experiences for Undergraduates — both on campus and around the nation. In 2021, she investigated the age-dependent regulation of DNA repair at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center to better understand why younger men have a higher potential of having children with Down syndrome.

A year later, Schepmann participated in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Summer Undergraduate Research Training Program, where she was involved in cancer research, using cell culture techniques to determine long-term chemoresistance to commonly used cancer treatment drugs. Last summer, she traveled to the University of Minnesota to work in a lab that employed medicinal chemistry and biological testing to develop inhibitors to treat alcoholic hepatitis.

Back at Southwestern, these experiences positioned Schepmann to play a pivotal role in Assistant Professor of Chemistry Chelsea Massaro’s lab during her senior year. There, she worked with fellow chemistry majors to study an inhibitor for a protein called Janus Kinase with the goal of understanding its role in cancer cell growth and immune response.

“I had attended Dr. Massaro’s research talk last year and was very excited about her work,” Schepmann said. “I was coming in with some REU experiences from my summer internships. It was an honor that she brought me on to help her set up her lab. She also gave me the opportunity to mentor fellow undergraduate students in the lab which has been very fun and also a great learning experience for me.”

Schepmann’s work on campus was recognized at the 2024 Honors Convocation, as the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department presented her with the Outstanding Graduating Senior in Biochemistry award.

“It was such an honor,” she said. “When I found out I had won the award, I was just blown away. I was in the middle of my hardest semester at SU while also applying to graduate schools whose applications were quite extensive. This award really helped spur me on to complete my applications and finish the semester off strong.”

She credits several of her professors for her academic success, including Assistant Professor of Mathematics Noelle Sawyer, Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer, former Assistant Professor of Chemistry Michael Gesinski, and Dr. Massaro.

Earning her award at the 2024 Honors Convocation wasn’t the only peak that Schepmann climbed during her time at SU. The Southern Oregon native was one of 12 students who traveled to Tanzania and climbed to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro with the Outdoor Adventure program.

“I look back and realize ‘Wow, we really did that,’” Schepmann said. “When we got to the top of the mountain, it was so pretty and I was just in awe. Physically, it was taxing. Mentally, it was hard. But it was a really wonderful trip that broadened my perspectives and allowed me to make lasting friendships with other students.”