In high school, Karli Hinman ’22 felt the only thing she was really good at and enjoyed was mathematics, and she assumed a career in accounting was in her future. That changed when she took chemistry in 11th grade and instantly fell in love.
“I enjoyed that chemistry is a science but at the same time there’s mathematical involvement,” she said. “Biology is overwhelming because it’s a lot of information, and physics involves very complex mathematics and a lot of complicated theory that make it non-enjoyable for me. Chemistry is a pleasant common ground between the two.”
Hinman said Stony Brook’s reputation in STEM — and less severe weather — helped her make her decision to come to Long Island. The biggest change in going from a rural high school in Mount Upton, a small town in central New York, to a sprawling suburban campus was the exposure to different cultures, an experience she is grateful for.
“Stony Brook is a lot more diverse than where I grew up,” she said. “That has been such a positive … it made me more open-minded and better able to understand and relate to others.”
Initially a biochemistry major, she quickly decided to switch to chemistry, and eventually organic chemistry became a favorite subject as she was drawn to the structures and reactions. Hinman describes research conducted with Troy Wymore, a research associate professor in the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology at Stony Brook, as a highlight of her academic career.
“I had professor Wymore for my organic chemistry lab lecture,” she said. “I enjoyed the way he interacted with students and decided to ask him about research.”
Together they were able to construct a multiple sequence alignment for BLUF (blue light using FAD) containing 1,500 to 2,000 proteins, generating a rough phylogenetic tree in order to identify and potentially resurrect an ancestral sequence. “This sounded fascinating to me, as I was also an anthropology minor, and was very interested in phylogenetics,” she said.
“Karli was clearly a student who enjoyed learning more about science and chemistry than what was just taught in the classroom,” said Wymore. “Her efforts in the lab initiated a longer-term project to more fully understand the function of photoreceptors and I was very pleased with the progress she made during the semester.”
Hinman also credits Amanda Flanagan, assistant to the chair for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Hazel Chou-Rinaldi, area office manager with the Schomburg-West Apartments, with helping her navigate her SBU experience.
Hinman became ineligible for New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program, which caused her to worry that she may not be able to complete her education. In October of 2021, Flanagan put those fears to rest, informing her about a new financial assistance program at Stony Brook called the FAST Fund.
It was established in September 2021 through United University Professions, the largest higher education union in the U.S., from a grant awarded by Believe in Students, Inc to provide emergency financial assistance to undergraduate students. It is one of 33 sites across the country and is managed by faculty and staff volunteers. Hinman applied and was the first to receive the aid at Stony Brook. Flanagan also offered her a position in the Mechanical Engineering office as an office assistant.
“Amanda went above and beyond to help me out and I cannot thank her enough for all that she did for me,” said Hinman. “I don’t know if I would have my degree right now if it wasn’t for her generosity.”
Flanagan said she was struck by Hinman’s professionalism, tenacity and resilience. “She was an excellent employee; she consistently showed up, took initiative, and was eager to assist faculty, staff, and students alike,” Flanagan said. “While balancing two on-campus jobs, conducting research in the Chemistry Department, volunteering for the SBU Cat Network, and maintaining excellent grades, Karli was also preparing for life after Stony Brook. She did everything she possibly could to set herself up for success. It’s my hope that students facing a hardship will read Karli’s story and feel confident that they too have someone in their corner through the FAST Fund.”
Chou-Rinaldi also noticed her work ethic and offered her a position for Fall 2022 as an office assistant, which she accepted. “Both Hazel and Amanda were like second mothers to me on campus, which gave me an added sense of safety and family when I was far from home,” she said.
After graduating in December 2022 with a bachelor of science in chemistry and a minor in anthropology, Hinman began her career as an associate scientist at Pace Analytical in South New Berlin, NY, where she is training to participate in laboratory procedures. Though she is unsure of what the future holds, she would like to pursue a career involving forensics, particularly forensic toxicology or forensic anthropology.
“I grew up watching true crime shows like NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Bones,” she said. “My favorite character was always the scientist/analyst. Having a chemistry degree with a background in anthropology, a career in forensic toxicology or forensic anthropology would be realistic. Forensic toxicology is an analysis of toxins in the body, whereas forensic anthropology is a skeletal analysis. I wouldn’t mind working in the field on skeletal remains, but I think working in a laboratory is more likely.”
Hinman describes her Stony Brook experience as one she will forever cherish, filled with opportunity and excitement.
“Going into college as a freshman can be intimidating, and it’s so important to get involved and meet as many people as you can,” she said. “You never know how many opportunities or lifelong friendships you’ll have that may change your life.”
— Robert Emproto