Words of Wisdom from a UNCG Grad Bound for Princeton

Posted on May 13, 2024

Student in cap and gown poses with parents on either side of her, looking at her proudly.
Sarah Korb and her parents at the Red Carpet Reception celebrating the Class of 2024.

This month, UNC Greensboro has celebrated thousands of accomplished Class of 2024 graduates, but few will be following commencement with Ivy League graduate studies. Sarah Korb, a Disciplinary Honors graduate from Huntsville, Alabama took advantage of every opportunity she was afforded at UNCG and will be taking the next step in her academic journey when she pursues a PhD in organic chemistry at Princeton University. 

Korb found success at UNCG and encourages future Spartans to do the same by sharing some advice that has fueled her progress.  

Choose Your Undergraduate Institution Carefully 

In high school, Korb was a high-achieving science student with interests in music. Here’s how she used personal connections, campus tours, and scholarship applications to find her way to UNCG: 

“I really wanted to go to school outside of Alabama, but I didn’t think it was possible because of expensive out-of-state tuition. I toured four schools in North Carolina including UNCG, because I knew a clarinet professor here who encouraged me to check it out. At UNCG, everyone was so nice. I felt like I could fit in here better than other universities and I wasn’t interested in the competitive environment I found at other schools. I knew the job prospects were good with a biochemistry major, so I was looking for that, and thought I’d do music on the side, all within Lloyd International Honors College. The Ethel Virginia Butler scholarship alleviated my family’s tuition concerns and made me a Spartan.” 

Immerse Yourself in Your Major  

Student in graduation gown stands with hands on the Sullivan Science Building sign.
Photo submitted by Sarah Korb.

Although music may have initially drawn Korb to UNCG, it didn’t take her long to find the like-minded people she was looking for in the Sullivan building. She thrived there as a biochemistry major, and she’ll miss her friends the most when she moves on to Princeton. 

“Once I figured out how much I loved chemistry, my whole path shifted, and I knew I was in the right place. It’s a smaller department and everyone knows everyone. I have a graduate student mentor who has worked with me for years. He’s been so helpful with advice and answers for all of my questions. The department feels like a family. We have gatherings outside of the lab like dinners, an annual fishing trip, or work-out classes at Kaplan. Tomorrow I’m helping to host a pancake breakfast for our department. It’s bittersweet to be leaving this department.” 

Take Advantage of Opportunities 

Korb was invited to join a research lab at the beginning of her second year. Hands-on lab work helped her master the difficult material she was learning and matched her with faculty mentors with valuable guidance.  

“It’s amazing how working in a research lab makes everything you’re learning in the classroom really click. I was fortunate to step into undergraduate position in Dr. Nicholas Oberlies’ lab under the mentorship of Dr. Huzefa Raja, but when I discovered my passion for organic chemistry, I considered changing labs. I was nervous, but I went to Dr. Oberlies with my concerns. His response was that he simply wanted me to be happy and encouraged me to pursue the science that interested me most. He supported my move to Dr. Kimberly Petersen’s chemistry lab where I worked for two years on asymmetric synthesis of molecules.  

Dr. Oberlies’ frank advice was not unique in the biochemistry department. I am no stranger to office hours, and all my professors have been helpful there. There’s never a dumb question. This mentorship has given me confidence to present my work at conferences and publish my findings.”  

Pay it Forward 

Working as a tutor in the Academic Achievement Center (AAC) unlocked a love of teaching for Korb that fueled her drive for a career in academia.  

“During my second semester at UNCG, I served as a Spanish tutor at the AAC. When chemistry became my focus, I started tutoring for general chemistry and then organic chemistry, so now I’ve been tutoring for over three years at the AAC. Summer tutoring led to a teaching assistant position for organic chemistry sections where I host review sessions at least once a week and grade assignments. I even gave a lecture once, and that was fun.  

I’ve met so many people through tutoring. I can’t spend five minutes in Sullivan without saying hi to someone and, as an introvert, I would never have expected that. Tutoring forces me out of my shell and helps me learn to interact with all sorts of different people. My goal is to become an organic chemistry professor. I live for the light bulb moments when I see a student’s eyes light up.” 

Aim High 

Advisors encouraged Korb to apply for prestigious internships and go for the top programs when she was applying for graduate schools. She credits her Princeton acceptance to relationships she built at UNCG. 

“Last summer, I had an undergraduate research fellowship at Princeton which gave me the chance to meet with organic chemistry faculty and help in their labs. They also have a close department, and collaboration was important to me. It’s so beautiful there and the facilities are world-class.  

When it came time to apply for graduate school, I was told to only apply to places I could see myself accepting, so I went for schools that were in the top 20 for chemistry. There wasn’t a single ‘safety school’ on my list, which I know is dangerous, but I want to do really cool science and that means going for the best programs. I applied to 15 schools and got into three.  

It’s a tough world out there for graduate school applications, but I think the letters of recommendation from my professors gave me an edge. It’s beneficial how close I was able to get to my professors here. They know me well and could easily highlight my experience and strengths. The publication and sheer amount of research I’ve done at UNCG was also key.” 

Celebrate and Appreciate 

Korb’s academic foundation at UNCG illuminated a career path in chemistry and a passion for teaching others. As she celebrated her UNCG graduation with her parents and friends, she reflected on her time here and looked ahead to the life that awaits her at Princeton University:   

“I am so fortunate that this is something I get to do and I’m looking forward to figuring it all out. Coming from Alabama to North Carolina was a big jump. And now, UNCG has prepared me to handle the next step.” 

Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications. 
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications unless otherwise noted.

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