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Brawn and brains

Former athletic standout graduates with a doctorate of philosophy in chemistry
  • Eleven years after she entered the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Aymara Albury is turning the final tassel on her academic life, graduating with a doctorate of philosophy in chemistry. PHOTOS: AYMARA ALBURY

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Jul 17, 2013

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Her list of accomplishments athletically is long — suffice it to say she has represented The Bahamas at the national level as a junior athlete in two sports, swimming and track and field, and was good enough at the senior level to compete for The Bahamas at the Pan American Games. It was that athletic prowess that earned Aymara Albury an athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2002. While there, she continued to excel in the athletic arena — she was a two-time Southeastern Conference (SEC) champion in the shot put, and a six-time NCAA national qualifier for the RollTide — three indoor, three outdoor. She even qualified for the 2008 Olympics. On Saturday, August 3, Aymara will turn her final tassel on her academic journey as she graduates cum laude (with honors) with a doctorate of philosophy in chemistry and show that she may have had the brawn, but she had the brains as well.

In fact, Aymara proved that a long time ago. Upon receiving her Bachelor of Science degree, cum laude in biology, she was selected by the NCAA as a 2007 Postgraduate Scholarship award winner. To qualify for the award, a student-athlete had to have an overall grade point average of 3.200 (on a 4.000 scale), or its equivalent and must have performed with distinction as a member of the varsity team in the sport in which the student-athlete was nominated. And the student-athlete must intend to continue academic work beyond the baccalaureate degree as a full-time, or part-time graduate student. Aymara had every intention of getting the highest degree possible. (She was also awarded the SEC W.H. Boyd McWhorter Post-graduate Scholarship).

“When you have a degree in a science, if you don’t have a PhD, then having a degree in a science is pointless,” said Albury.

Moving on to the next stage

Eleven years after venturing off to university (she graduated St. Augustine’s College in 2002), Aymara is finally ending her academic career and entering the job market. The next rung on her ladder of life will see her stepping up to her new role as a synthetic organic chemist at Entropy Solutions, Inc. in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she will be tasked with designing new phase change material (making molecules that change faces).

It’s a role that’s vastly different from what she thought she would be doing a few years ago.

“I was going to teach, but that’s obviously not what God wants me to do, so I’m going into research now,” said the 27-year-old who is just days shy off her birthday. Teaching at the university level, she said may still come later. “We have to see what the Lord tells us to do. You take it one day at a time based on what the Lord tells you to do.”

No matter how you look at it, Aymara is one smart cookie.

The daughter of physical education teachers, Preston and Celestine Albury, whose grandfather, Preston H. Albury even has a school named in his honor in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera, said she had no choice but to excel academically.

“I had no choice, because in order to be able to go to swim practice or track practice I had to do well in school — that was just the rules in our house.”

She was an honor roll student her entire academic life. She says she never once slipped up. Aymara’s only sibling, Acchia, who is three years older than Aymara, also matriculated to a doctorate degree.

On the road to her doctorate degree, Aymara has amassed an impressive research experience, having worked on the total synthesis of Sinensigenin A and C; provided a method for the preparation of predominantly E-disubstituted homoallylic alcohols via the allylation of aldehydes with highly ordered allyl silanes; assisted in the total synthesis of 7-Deoxy-6-O-methylfusarentin; achieved the total synthesis of (-)-Cryptocaryolone and (-)-Cryptocaryolone Diacetate. In other words, she has done lots of scientific stuff that the layman finds hard to understand, and being the scientific mind that she is, she finds it a chore to break down what she’s done in layman’s terms, and gets a little frustrated trying to explain it all.

During her undergraduate years, she assisted in research efforts towards the synthesis of Vatitriol.

Put your best foot forward

She has also gotten some teaching under her belt. At the University of Alabama, she taught an Organic Chemistry Laboratory I course and was a teaching assistant for Organic Chemistry Laboratory I and II, General Chemistry Laboratory and Fundamentals of General, Organic and Biological Chemistry Laboratory over the course of four years. Being the smart kid she is, Aymara was also a tutor for General, Organic and Biological Chemistry.

Aymara even picked up a few other awards besides her Post-graduate Scholarship over the years that didn’t come from athletics. Her other academic awards included the outstanding first-year graduate chemistry student teaching award; The NCAA Athletic Association All-American Scholar; Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll; and the Woodrow Alvin Davis Family Student Athlete Award.

She is also affiliated with the American Chemical Society, Phi Beta Kappa, National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Gamma Sigma Epsilon, Honorary Society for Chemistry Scholars.

While she’s always excelled academically, Aymara says getting an education means independence for her. And to the student who may be struggling in school she encourages them to worker just a little harder.

“While it may be frustrating now, in the end it does pay off. It’s cliché, but that’s what it is,” she said.

And choosing her education over pursuing an athletic career, her response: “The ability for your brain to provide for you lasts longer than your body ever could.”

She is definitely looking forward to her post education years.

“What’s exciting about it is that presumably it [organic chemist position] provides a way to reduce the cost required to heat and cool your homes, therefore reducing the negative effects that our living habits have on the environment,” she said, slipping back into the scientific mode that she never quite slipped out of during the interview.


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