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Cole Sagan ‘17C

Cole Sagan ‘17C constantly seeks to discover new worlds, whether studying abroad in the islands of the Galápagos or exploring quantum phenomena in the lab. Soon, he’ll be pursuing another adventure as a Ph.D. student in physical chemistry at one of the top programs to which he’s been accepted.

Sagan is a double major in Chemistry and Biology with a minor in Classics. He is enrolled in the Honors Program and has received the merit-based Presidential Scholarship, a prestigious full-tuition scholarship.

For the past year, Sagan has worked in the research lab run by Associate Professor Gina M. Florio, Ph.D. Together, Florio and Sagan are preparing a manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed science journal about their research, which investigates the fundamental principles of charge transfer in molecules. They see potential long-term implications for this research in computer manufacture. Sagan enjoys the research as a complement to his coursework in chemistry. “Instead of going through techniques by rote, I’m able to explore things for myself,” he said.

Sagan came to St. John’s from Quakertown, Pennsylvania. Of the change to an urban environment from his hometown, “I’m thankful to have had exposure to the diversity of people and ideas in New York City, not to mention the food and museums,” he said.

Sagan has also gotten to experience Paris and the Galápagos through winter study abroad courses. During the 2015 winter break, he traveled to Ecuador and the Galápagos through a course taught by Associate Professor Christopher W. Bazinet, Ph.D., about island biogeography. Sagan and the other students in the class learned about Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution during the preceding fall semester, and then followed in Darwin’s footsteps through the islands of the Galápagos in the winter intercession. “The wildlife there haven’t developed a sense of fear of humans,” said Sagan. “I still remember swimming and playing with sea lions, and when it rains on campus now, I miss hiking through the rainforest.”

“Cole has great energy, enthusiasm and a positive approach towards everyone around him,” said Bazinet. “Perhaps most important for his scientific future, he has a sense of wonder and a taste for adventure that promises to make life very interesting for him!”

The following winter, Sagan took a theology course at the SJU Paris location through the Dean’s International Opportunities Program. Students selected for this highly competitive program pay only $500 and roundtrip airfare, in addition to tuition expenses, to participate. “The St. John’s location in Paris is so amazing,” said Sagan. “They’re really not lying when they tell you that it’s only a 20-minute walk to the Eiffel Tower. And of course, Paris is the birthplace of the Vincentians. I started thinking about the lives of saints as normal people going about their days just like you and me.”

He chose a minor in Classics after taking Latin with Associate Professor Walter Petrovitz, Ph.D., to satisfy his language requirement. Petrovitz encouraged him to continue taking Latin and add some Greek as well. “I felt a special connection to the language and to uncovering things lost in translation,” said Sagan. “It added a new dynamic to my faith and gave me a powerful tool to understand differences in meaning. I think it’s also useful for my interest in the history of science.”

“In my experience, the most successful students are those who seem to be interested in everything, or at least open to everything, who view their college years as a precious opportunity to learn and broaden their world view,” said Petrovitz. “Cole certainly epitomizes this kind of student.”

Sagan is interested in research and an academic career. “I really enjoy learning and exploring new ideas, like the whole new world of quantum phenomena,” he said. He has been accepted into several highly competitive physical chemistry doctoral programs, including:  the University of Wisconsin - Madison; Purdue University, the University of Colorado Boulder; the University of Washington; the University of Oregon; and the University of California – Santa Barbara. He is interested in becoming a chemistry professor, but is also interested in science policy work or abstracting. “Whatever I end up doing, I want it to be some kind of scientific literacy outreach,” said Sagan. “I feel it’s important to support data and reason rather than belief, especially for those who don’t have the same opportunity to learn that I have had.”

 No matter what career path Sagan chooses, we are confident he will continue to make new discoveries, serve others, and commit his talents and work ethic to future success.