ASU chemistry student works to positively impact lives around her

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series of profiles showcasing students in the School of Molecular Sciences.

McKenna Renfro is a senior majoring in chemistry. She is passionate about chemistry, health and social issues, and is heavily involved on campus as part of ASU’s Gospel Choir, a general member of the Zaria Black and African Coalition, a community assistant, and more.

This fall, Renfro will be attending the UCLA School of Dentistry, where she will continue her academic journey to become a Doctor of Dental Surgery.

Question: When did you first realize that you wanted to study the field you are majoring in?

Answer: I entered my first college-level chemistry class not knowing what I was getting myself into, and my first semester was definitely an incredible challenge. However, I have learned to love the curious world behind the elements that constitute our universe. After my first semester, I gained a new appreciation and respect for chemistry. I found myself drawn to the sense of accomplishment that came with completing each new chemistry course.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My sister completed her political science degree at ASU, which allowed me to gain a strong sense of Sun Devil spirit and pride prior to even enrolling in the university. Her undergraduate experience allowed me to become familiar with the multitude of resources and opportunities available to students at ASU. I knew that ASU would give me a competitive advantage when it came to applying to professional schools, which has been my career goal since freshman year.

Q: What research opportunities have you had as a student here, and can you describe your research experience?

A: One of the great things about ASU is the ability to explore numerous opportunities and areas of interest throughout your college experience. In addition to my love for science, I have a strong, undying passion for the advocacy for minorities and underserved populations. My experience as a research assistant in the Neuberg-Kenrick Evolutionary Social Cognition Lab allowed me to explore my interest in determining the psychological processes behind very relevant and pressing social issues that concern these groups, such as stereotyping/prejudices, judgment, decision-making, morality and legal issues. Throughout the spring of 2016, I completed research and worked on the inception and development of a study topic and design, data collection and interpretation. I assisted Dr. Keelah Williams and Dr. Steven Neuberg with their investigation of how an individual’s perception of threats and opportunities in the environment might affect stereotypes, judgment, and even legal sentencing.

Q: What are some extracurricular activities that you enjoy at ASU?

A: During my junior and senior years of undergraduate study, I have become heavily involved in the university’s gospel choir. In addition, my involvement as a general member for the Zaria Black and African Coalition provides an intimate setting for young students of color to conduct conversations that promote womanhood, relationships, development and leadership. I have also been involved in ASU’s Pre-Dental Society for the past three years. In terms of my scientific interests, I worked as an assistant teaching assistant and lab assistant in microbiology at Arizona State, where I provided daily instruction and lecture to scheduled laboratory sessions, prepared culture media, broth, and reagents, sterilized biohazard materials, and supervised students in ASU’s "MIC206: Biology of Microorganisms" laboratory.

Q: What’s something you have learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My role as a community assistant (with ASU Housing) has exposed me to many cultures different from my own. For the past two school years, I have worked diligently to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment where all individuals can be celebrated. I consistently organize programs for first-time freshmen students that embed diversity and inclusion at ASU. In addition, my involvement in a University Service Learning course allowed me to immerse myself in over 100 hours of community service at the Boys and Girls Club of the East Valley. I first-handedly witnessed the need to minimize the achievement gap for minorities and other underserved, socioeconomic communities. With my background in chemistry, biological sciences, and research in psychology, I was able to unite both my passions for science and health with my everlasting endeavor to positively impact people’s lives.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to students interested in coming to ASU to study chemistry or biochemistry?

Your biggest limitations are the barriers you place on yourself. I entered ASU asking myself, “How am I going to graduate with a degree in chemistry from ASU?” I later realized that the biggest obstacle that I faced throughout my undergraduate experience was not from any of my classes, but rather from the doubt that I had placed within myself. Do not give up on yourself or doubt your own potential! 


Rachel Lee
School of Molecular Sciences