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Standing Out among Stand-Outs

Sloan Scholar takes time to mentor next-generation scientists

June 14, 2019 | By Tatiana Diaz de Leon

Sloan Scholar

Among the many successful and hard-working students at UC San Diego, Alex Mantanona stands out. The third-year, PhD student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who specializes in inorganic chemistry, is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Scholar, selected for his considerable promise as a chemist. While he is tasked with advancing science with his Sloan Scholar Fellowship, he also is investing in the future of his field by mentoring next-generation scientists.

A leader in ChemPAL—an undergraduate-to-graduate mentorship program—Mantanona has helped put together workshops for undergraduate students that cover topics such as resume-building, research involvement, poster preparation and social events.

“The program has helped me to improve my mentorship abilities,” explained Mantanona. “I have had to be cognizant of things I have done that have made me successful, and then try to pass that knowledge and experience on to others.”  

When it comes to his fellowship-supported research, Mantanono works with the Rinehart Group, led by Professor Jeffrey Rinehart in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The group focuses on studying magnetic nanoparticles and single-molecule magnets. Its research not only produces important insights into chemical synthesis, but it also impacts organometallic chemistry, a branch of chemistry important for synthesizing drugs and materials. What’s more, these molecular magnets take people a step closer to understanding and developing magnets that work on the molecular level, with potential to be used in computers and other electronics.

With the financial support of the Sloan Foundation, Mantanona said that he can more easily involve himself in the greater science and chemistry community, both academically and socially. The support, for example, gave the PhD candidate the freedom to be involved with ChemPAL in the first place. It has also extended his ability to attend national conferences, where discussions revolve around diversifying the PhD pool and advancing faculty of color.

“The most exciting aspect of the Sloan fellowship program is the ability to attend conferences which focus on diversity,” said Mantanona. “These conferences connect many different programs together, and being able to share your experiences with others from similar backgrounds is rewarding.”  

Last October, Mantanona said he attended the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) conference, where the topics addressed were “quite intense.” He explained that the experience helped him to refocus on his non-educational goal of helping others. He noted that it was a good feeling to know that there were entities out there trying to build parity in society.