Alumna gives guest lecture on renewable energy sources


On Friday, April 5, Debra Mohnen ‘79, who is currently a professor at the University of Georgia in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department, gave a lecture on plant fuel and biomass in Steiz Hall of Science.

In the lecture, Professor Mohnen expressed her concern about global warming and her hopes of the lecture encouraging students to think about this issue. Professor Mohnen feels a larger responsibility for global warming since her generation used resources without really thinking about the consequences. “I feel the huge responsibility to help solve the problem,” she said.

As a scholar in her field, Professor Mohnen shared her thoughts on the importance of basic education. “Studies, at the very basic level, not only push our understanding forward, but serve as the foundation for practical steps ahead.”  Mohnen believes, “Basic research is the fuel that founds the economic engine in the country. Basic information feeds and drives practical utility.”

As an alumna, she said she carefully considered how to give the lecture to undergraduate students of Lawrence. “I tried to think what I would want to hear when I was a student. I think I would want to hear, ‘What is a graduate student project like?’” Mohnen said. She said even after graduating from Lawrence, information about what graduate research is like or how to obtain a Ph.D would be really helpful.

Students with interest in biology showed an appreciation for the lecture. Freshman Sophie Scholtz said, “I really like how she talks about energy, her fields like researching related to current energy crisis. It is interesting to hear how she is applying her work towards current issues.” Scholtz also added, “It would be nice someday if I got into some research-based field.”

Another student, senior Nathan Goodson-Gregg, said, “It is an informative thing that the speaker mentioned her experiences, how her interests stand from her interactions with Dr. Maravolo. That really made me aware of the extensive interaction that exists between faculty.”

Senior Samantha Schilsky said, “[Professor Mohnen] put a little at the end to tell Lawrence students, ‘Remember your mentor.’ That’s true, and that is some of the best advice that anyone can give.” Schilsky continued, “There is something to be said about the Lawrence connection, that when people graduate and they are willing to help almost any other Lawrence student […]Everyone takes such pride in being a Lawrentian.”

In terms of research, Professor Mohnen said she already got several grant proposals. “I would love to have more Lawrentians come to work in the lab.” Professor Mohnan was very pleased that the character of Lawrentians is the same as when she was in Lawrence. “The people are really excited and interested in what they are doing and they think really deeply about it, and very ambitious and motivated.”

Professor Mohnen lastly said, “I think the future of our country depends on people who are independent thinkers, who can think outside of the box, and have the confidence to be movers and shakers, using not only the information but the creativity they have to make the difference. I sense that in the Lawrence students.”