People of SU / Science / Technology and Health

Science Scholar

Written by Tara Lee

December 13, 2022

Student in a meadow of flowers
Liliana Miliani Alvarez McClain, ’26

Seattle University chemistry student earns prestigious national undergraduate award.

Liliana Miliani Alvarez McClain, ’26, believes that chemistry should be about collaboration, not competition. That philosophy is part of what brought the freshman from Portland to Seattle University and a prestigious scholarship is helping to make that possible. 

Recently, McClain received an award from the American Chemical Society (ASC) Scholars Program, which provides renewable scholarships to undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups in the chemical sciences who are majoring in chemistry-related disciplines and intend to pursue careers in the field. 

“I have always been interested in sciences. When I was in 6th grade, I participated in a climate change conference and my involvement in that conference made a strong impact on me. I am also very passionate about the connection between climate justice and social justice,” says McClain. “However, without this award and other financial aid, it would not be feasible for me to go to college.” 

ACS is the premier professional society for chemists and only awards 300 of these scholarships each year across the county.

SU Professor PJ Alaimo, PhD, who is also the chair of the Chemistry Department says, “In the 20 years I’ve been teaching here, I am not aware of any other SU chemistry student who has received this scholarship. This award is exceptionally rare, as they are very difficult to receive. Liliana is an excellent example of the quality of students who are choosing to come here.” 

According to ACS, underrepresented students now make up a third of the college-age U.S. citizens, yet they earn about 18 percent of chemical science bachelor’s degrees and about 11 percent of chemistry PhDs. 

College of Science and Engineering Dean Amit Shukla, PhD, praised McClain, who reflects the college’s high-caliber STEM students. 

“Our students continue to inspire and challenge us to envision a new version of STEM education, where scientific research is a fundamental skill,” says Shukla. “This fellowship award for Liliana reflects their vision and the potential for what they will do in future.”

Even though McClain is in her first quarter SU, they are already looking ahead to the future, with plans for research and possibly graduate school. “My heart wants to go into academia and do my own research. I am grateful for the professors in the chemistry department. They are very open to inviting undergraduate students to be involved in their research and they are very passionate about what they are teaching,” says McClain.

In addition to the quality teaching and experiential learning at SU, McClain adds that they also like that Seattle is close enough to Portland so they can take the train home to see their family. In addition to their studies, McClain is also a creative who likes to make art, craft and sew.

When asked about what connects the sciences and the arts, McClain is clear.

“It is about looking at problems and concepts in different ways. Science is about asking questions that people haven’t thought of before and just as with social justice, you must question how things are. I think the best scientists are super creative. By thinking differently, we can make the biggest impact.”