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Jul 31, 2013

When dreams become real

Devin Buennemeyer ('16), physics major, Hamilton, Va.

By Rachel Dawson ('13)

Devin Buennemeyer volunteers for Loudoun County RescueLike other Dingledine Scholars, Buennemeyer makes community service part of her regular routine.

To call freshman physics major Devin Buennemeyer ('16) self-motivated is an understatement. On a pre-med track, Buennemeyer's physics concentration is biophysics, and she is a minoring in mathematics. Buennemeyer is one of five Class of 2016 full-ride Dingledine Scholars. "This scholarship has made my dreams become real," she says.

Academic rigor and community service

Dingledine Scholarships are awarded based on academic achievement and leadership, and recipients are required to complete extra hours of community service. Dingledine Scholars meet regularly for peer support and networking, and according to Buennemeyer, strive to be involved and give back to the community. "Everyone is such a different person, but we all want to change the world," she says.

'This scholarship has made my dreams become real.'

Buennemeyer plans to attend medical school after graduating from JMU and work in rehabilitation or physical medicine. She dreams to establish a hospital in a developing nation.

Even though JMU is helping her reach her dreams, ironically Buennemeyer wasn't sure that JMU was the right fit. After attending the JMU Admissions program CHOICES, Buennemeyer chose JMU she says, "Because I thought the people here could become my friends and everyone here would be invested in my success."

Professors teach problem solving

The JMU physics department is small, and the one-on-one faculty time has given Buennemeyer the opportunity to work closely with professors and upperclassmen. And, she has formed a tight-knit community among fellow students. "Professors teach us to be problem-solvers," Buennemeyer says. "In physics, getting the right answer is one thing, but if you don't understand how you got that answer, you won't be able to duplicate it." William Chris Hughes is one of Buennemeyer's physics professors and her adviser. "He's an amazing teacher," Buennemeyer says. "If I don't understand something, he'll explain it in 18 different ways until I get it. He seems really invested in each and every student's success."

''Having students perform research is the ultimate method of teaching and learning science."

Hughes appreciates the personal investment in Buennemeyer as well. "Devin is an impressive young woman who is very focused yet not overbearing," he says. "In some cases, a student with her drive and achievement can be high maintenance in that they expect to be treated differently than the students for whom the material takes more effort. Devin seems to be very within herself and self-motivated toward her achievements."

Freshman research sets foundation

During spring semester Buennemeyer completed research on protein aggregation with biochemistry professor Gina MacDonald Handal and eight students. Buennemeyer was one of two freshmen on the research team.

"In my opinion the best way to learn science and develop critical thinking skills is to do science," Handal says. "Having students perform research is the ultimate method of teaching and learning science."

While Handal supervises and coaches her students, they are doing the hands-on research, documenting results, writing papers and getting their work published.

"Devin is an absolutely outstanding student," Handal says. "She is careful, insightful, creative, enthusiastic and hard working. I look forward to working with her over the next few years."

A constant self-motivator, Buennemeyer took one of her physics classes to the next level this semester—making it an honors course. She wrote a 10-page paper on battery storage and energy efficient alternatives to meet the honors requirements.

"Honors courses take what you learn in class and your homework to a new level because you must apply your knowledge," Buennemeyer explains.

Devin Buennemeyer and professor Shanil ViraniOne-on-one faculty time gives JMU students the opportunity to work closely with professors. Above, Buennemeyer confers with professor Shanil Virani.

Graduates find success

Physics professor Shanil Virani is pleased that JMU physics majors find success after JMU—in the workplace and in graduate schools and medical schools. "Our students graduate with very good critical-thinking skills and problem-solving abilities. They collaborate with faculty in the lab helping us make advances in our understanding of the universe," Virani says. "That is physics. Not being afraid of problems, not being afraid of numbers, not being afraid of trying different ideas and seeing what works, and sometimes just as importantly, what does not."

Buennemeyer says physics is a hard major, but it's rewarding. "It's the problem-solving techniques and the passion everyone has for what they're learning and teaching that encourages me to pursue my dreams," she says. "I see the professors pursuing their dreams and doing what they love and it shines through in the classroom and outside the classroom."

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