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York College Chemistry major hopes to guide other young women to STEM careers

Abby in lab

Abby Foxwell ’21 didn’t realize how fun science could be until a high school teacher opened her eyes. She had always found science intimidating, but everything changed when her biology teacher at Red Lion Area Senior High School showed her how many things were impacted by science. “I thought it was so fascinating that everything in our lives is based off carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen,” she says. “They’re the building blocks of everything.”

At the time, that biology teacher was one of the few women interested in science who Foxwell knew, but it was because of her, Foxwell says, that she decided to pursue a career in STEM.

‘A step ahead’

Foxwell chose York College of Pennsylvania after touring the campus. The state-of-the-art chemistry labs and hands-on research would be open to her even as an undergraduate, something Foxwell saw only graduate students doing at larger universities. “That one aspect—getting to use equipment in the lab—can put you a step ahead,” she says.

But she wanted to do more than just go to classes and explore the labs. She wanted to encourage other young women to explore careers in STEM. She found that opportunity in the Chemistry Society. Here, students and faculty not only dive into their passions related to chemistry, but they visit area schools and invite students to the York College campus to inspire them.

Foxwell finds ways to explore real-world application for chemistry—which she thinks would be easy entry points for younger students. Some of her project-based research topics included exploring buffer capacities in baby wipes to see how they maintain their pH so they don’t cause irritation. She also looked at essential oils, which release volatile organics when burned and can become unsafe. Through her own research, she determined how much of the oils could be inhaled before there would be health concerns.

Making an impact

Today, Foxwell is President of the Chemistry Society, and while it has added some work to her already busy schedule, she finds satisfaction in cultivating a love for science in others. “I wish I had known more people I could look up to as a role model in this field,” she says. “I can do that for others and try to fill that gap.”

While she’s still not certain on the exact career path she’d like to take, Foxwell has found her interests developing in environmental work. She’s considering animal conservation research and habitat reconstruction, as well as animal pharmaceuticals. “We can see our world changing every day, and I want my work to make an impact,” she says. “York College has encouraged me to explore whatever path interests me, and I know they’ve given me a good foundation to succeed.”