Chemistry major combines her passions to fulfill her dreams

Sam Sholtis
June 14, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jilian Roebuck, a fourth-year chemistry student minoring in education policy at Penn State, is combining her passions to fulfill her dreams.

“My ultimate career goal — how I dream my life will go — would be to work as a chemist for a while and then go back and teach high school,” said Roebuck. “Chemistry and education are equally my passions and I can’t see my life without them both.”

Roebuck is taking full advantage of opportunities within the Eberly College of Science that will help to prepare her and ensure that she has the tools to fulfill this dream. During the fall 2020 semester alone she was a learning assistant for CHEM 227 and for CHEM 111M. She conducted research in Associate Professor of Chemistry Miriam Freedman’s laboratory; volunteers for events staged by the college’s Office of Science Outreach; and sat on the executive board of the college’s student ambassador group, Science LionPride. Maybe most impressively, she still finds time for sleep (usually).

Born in New Jersey with two Penn State alumni for parents, Roebuck always knew she would come to Penn State for her undergraduate degree.

“I was raised on Penn State football and THON, and there are even pictures of me as a baby wearing a ‘Future Penn Stater’ onesie,” she said. “I applied to other schools, but there was never a doubt, and my experiences here have actually surpassed even my high expectations.”

She’s always known she wanted to be a teacher, but her passion for chemistry started a little later. During her sophomore year of high school, Roebuck took an advanced chemistry course that opened her eyes to the importance of chemistry, why we should care about it, and how connected it is to, well, everything. An AP chemistry class her senior year cemented the idea in her head that she wanted to major in chemistry.

“My high school chemistry teacher, Krista Carton, had a profound impact on my life,” said Roebuck. “She really inspired me to pursue chemistry and science education. She showed us how chemistry is everywhere — it’s why we’re alive, it’s our food, our cleaning supplies, it’s everywhere. In high school, science wasn’t actually my best subject. I did better in history and English, but science challenged me and kept me guessing and engaged.”

Roebuck got involved with the college’s Office of Science Outreach when she took a science outreach class (SC 294) in her first year at Penn State. Since then, she has volunteered at college outreach events like Haunted-U and Exploration-U. During all of her years at Penn State, Roebuck has also served as a mentor for the college’s ENVISION: STEM Career Day Supporting Young Women, a program designed to help young women see themselves in the STEM fields.

“I was lucky that my parents always supported me and told me that I could do anything that I set my mind to, so the fact that I am a woman never really factored in to my decision to study chemistry,” said Roebuck. “But not every girl gets that support, or has female role models in science like I had in high school with Mrs. Carton, or that I now have here at Penn State: people like my research adviser, Miriam Freedman; Angela Bischof, the director of general chemistry labs, who I am a learning assistant for; and Jackie Bortiatynski, my adviser. These women continue to be an inspiration to me, and I hope that I can have that kind of impact working with girls at ENVISION and on my future students.”

For science majors like Roebuck, going into science education isn’t necessarily the most obvious career path.

“Sometimes people ask me why I’m not planning to pursue a Ph.D., but I can’t think of anything more important and exciting than passing on my knowledge and passion to the next generation,” said Roebuck. “I want to help dispel the misconception that science, and chemistry in particular, isn’t for everyone. I firmly believe that chemistry is useful to everyone in one way or another.”

Roebuck’s plans for after graduation are still up in the air. She is applying to master’s programs in science education, but also looking at jobs in environmental chemistry. Whichever avenue she decides to pursue first, she said, she will be ready.

This story first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of the Science Journal, the Eberly College of Science magazine.

Last Updated June 14, 2021