Elements of Success

Alumna finds her home at Pfizer

Standout student finds success at Pfizer. Pictured are (L to R): Brent Feske, Ph.D., professor of organic chemistry and associate dean of outreach, planning and community programs; Sara Zingales, Ph.D., associate professor of organic chemistry; Ariana Vargas, Will Lynch, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; alumna Phuong Nguyen, Elizabeth Van Winkle-Harris and Sharon Stricklin; Delana Gajdosik-Nivens, Ph.D., dean of the College of Science and Mathemetics.

Learning about small chemical reactions in her high school chemistry class changed the trajectory of Ariana Vargas’ (’18) life. Hearing her high school teacher explain what caused the reaction piqued Vargas’ curiosity about different and more complex chemical interactions, and her love for chemistry was born.

“Even though it was basic chemistry back in high school, I always wanted to know more,” she said. “Like what interactions were between the molecules and all the forces that can contribute.”

On a quest for more knowledge in the field, she found the curriculum at Georgia Southern to be more challenging than many other colleges she had explored and quickly found her home there under the mentorship of biochemistry professor Brent Feske, Ph.D.

“When I was in undergrad, my teachers were so supportive and always offered me educational support if I needed more help,” she said. “They were always available for me and made time for me to succeed.”

Specifically, Feske mentored Vargas and helped her as she honed her skills. She worked under his guidance to research pharmaceutical synthesis, which helped her land a job at the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Vargas went straight to work at Pfizer fresh out of her undergraduate career in a position normally reserved for individuals with a master’s degree or more experience in the field.

“Honestly, I never even thought of applying to Pfizer, but my mentor, Dr. Brent Feske, was the one who guided me through the process and encouraged me to apply for this job,” she said. “And I did so, and I was very excited when I got it.”

Vargas, who moved to the United States from Mexico in 2009, has found a home at the company’s research and development laboratories in Connecticut. Her colleagues encourage and support her in her role as an associate scientist, and she conducts research daily, which she loves.

“I love to research the new literature and paperwork on the scientific aspects of chemistry,” she said. “It has been a great opportunity for me to apply what I learned in undergrad into the workforce and knowing that I can help other people. In the end, it’s the patients who get the results.”

With the experience she is gaining at Pfizer and the knowledge base she obtained at the Armstrong Campus, Vargas ultimately hopes to use her skillset to contribute to prescription drug affordability around the world.

“Many people are not able to afford medication, especially in third world countries,” she said. “I believe that if there is a way to help people to obtain medicines at no cost, or at least by decreasing the costs, I think for me will be good to see a project I work on get released to the market, and that people will be able to afford medicine.” — Crissie Elrick Bath