Lionhearted Leaders: Meden Isaac-Lam

June 13, 2022
Meden Isaac-Lam

Student success is the goal in Meden Isaac-Lam’s classroom

The experimental portion of chemistry, watching the molecules seem to be alive, interact and transform, is what most interested Meden Isaac-Lam, associate professor of Chemistry in the College of Engineering and Sciences at Purdue University Northwest (PNW), about the field. It was the idea of contributing to the education of the next generation of scientists that interested her most in teaching.

Isaac-Lam, whose specialties include synthetic organic chemistry, spectroscopy and chemical biology, credits passion, persistence and patience with helping to create an innovative and engaging educational experience for her students.

Success is the goal

“I have high standards for my students,” says Isaac-Lam. “They have to achieve competence. Student success means national or international recognition, placing Purdue Northwest students at the same level with the best in the country or the world. Student success is the main determinant of my success as an educator.”

Creating an effective learning environment for students, according to Isaac-Lam, is an ongoing challenge because of the complexity of the subjects and courses she teaches.

“To create an engaging learning environment, I try to individualize my teaching and understand the barriers each student needs to overcome in order to optimize their learning,” she explains. “Individualized teaching, or mentoring, is extremely effective in research with my undergraduate students.”

The importance of mentoring

Mentoring students is one of the ways Isaac-Lam develops and trains the next generation. She believes mentoring should not be a one-sided task but the experience should benefit both the mentor and the student. She cites the compatibility of the student and the mentor as a key element in a mentoring program.

“Mentoring is extremely critical in student success,” says Isaac-Lam. “Mentoring our undergraduate students entails well-structured goals, the student’s career path and the intellectual abilities and motivation of the student. When a balance of these different factors is implemented, then mentoring will be very successful. Mentoring opportunities at Purdue Northwest offer students a chance to benefit from the expertise of our faculty.”

Inspiring research

In 2020, Isaac-Lam received her latest patent for Chlorin-Vitamin Conjugates, compounds she designed and synthesized as therapeutics for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. The patents serve as a model and source of inspiration for her students by introducing them to the idea and possibility of being an inventor. She points out the need for more researchers in science using the pandemic as an example.

“Research in science is one of the central aspects in the advancement of humankind,” says Isaac-Lam. “A patent is a recognition of an invention and acknowledgment of an invention inspires others to invent. Experiencing the joy of discovery is what I would like my students to experience as well.”

Latest research

Aside from her cancer research, Isaac-Lam is working with American military veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The interdisciplinary research project involves a team consisting of a chemist (Isaac-Lam), statistician, social worker, psychologists, radiologists, MRI technicians and doctoral medical physics students.

“This project will try to understand how molecules in the brain change a person’s feeling and behavior,” says Isaac-Lam. “It’s a demonstration of how chemistry in our body plays an essential role in our mental health. Additionally, this research provides an example for our students about the real application of chemistry and shows that cutting edge research is possible on our campus.”

Isaac-Lam is excited about the tremendous potential PNW has in the region and the opportunities that it provides for students. Her favorite part of teaching is simple, “When students learn the material deeply and become interested in the topic,” she says. “That is what I like most about teaching. That is the reason I am here.”