When educators today talk about the importance of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), they are not kidding and students should really pay attention.
When Christopher James Snyder was a student at Holly High School, those studies were part of the curriculum, but not promoted using a handy acronym like STEM. Yet, Snyder, who graduated in 2002, is today a scientist.
While in high school, Snyder was active in the Math/Science Club, Odyssey of the Mind and the National Honor Society.
“I graduated in May 2007 from U of M-Flint with my bachelor of science degree in chemistry and a minor in math,” Snyder said.
He received his PhD from Wayne State University in May 2013 in chemistry. His major was “inorganic” chemistry and his minor, “organic chemistry.”
Snyder said, “As a teenager, I would play around with chemicals, such as lighting bon fires with thermite, making hydrogen gas from pennies and pool cleaner, and once I accidentally caused my bottle of homemade hydrogen to blow up, which muffled my hearing for the rest of the day.
“I developed an interest in how things work and learned that most things involve chemistry on some level,” he said. “In college, I realized that chemistry has a lot in common with art: once you learn the basics, what you can do is limited only by your creativity and imagination.
“I was never the best student, and I thought that going to graduate school was out of the question,” Snyder said. “In addition, I was sick of classes and I knew there was no way that I could foot the bill for a graduate degree.”
Snyder said that all changed during his senior year of college. Three professors from U of M-Flint (Anselm Omoike, Bob Stach, and Brian Buffin) strongly encouraged him to apply to a PhD program.
“They thought I had what it took to be a good graduate student,” he said. “After telling me that a PhD in chemistry only required a year of coursework and a few years of working in a lab in an apprentice-like position, I decided to apply. Also, when you study to get a PhD in chemistry, the school actually pays you.”
Where he works today
Today, Snyder works as a synthetic chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Los Alamos, New Mexico was chosen as the top-secret location for a joint civilian/military operation during World War II known as the Manhattan Project, he said.
“In short, LANL was at the heart of the development of nuclear weapons that helped end WWII. Today, LANL is a federal contractor (owned by the Department of Energy) that focuses on many areas of research, including chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, supercomputing, climatology, and environmental sciences,” Snyder said.
“The primary goal of my job is to design and develop new propellants, pyrotechnics, and explosives that burn cleaner, are safer to handle, and made by greener methods of production,” he said. “In addition, I help teach a Homemade Explosives (HMEs) course to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians to help them learn how to identify and safely handle HMEs.”
Snyder married Ashley Middleton, a 2004 Holly High School grad. “We actually didn’t know each other in high school, but we met through some mutual friends in 2009 and started dating in 2010,” he said.
Snyder and his wife love to hike in their spare time and on vacations.
“When I first thought of New Mexico, I thought of flat, hot desert,” he said. “It turns out that I was mostly wrong. Los Alamos is located 7,300 feet above sea level in the foothills of the Jemez mountains, which makes for some awesome hiking. Our vacations are usually planned around hiking, and this year we plan to hike to Havasu Falls in Arizona as our vacation.”
Although the Snyders do not have any children at this time, they adopted two dogs since moving to New Mexico. “We found Loki on a hike that we went on Valentine’s Day 2015 shortly after we moved to New Mexico,” he said. “We adopted Quinn two years ago, who was abandoned on the side of a highway in Texas.”
Advice to Holly’s 2019 graduates
“I was able to graduate from high school as No. 34 in my class by barely cracking a book. In college, my lackadaisical attitude got me put on academic probation,” Snyder said. “I dropped out and started working at Home Depot. A year later, I had developed a relentless work ethic and went back to college. I realized that ‘passion’ isn’t something that you find, it is something that you develop by rising to challenging situations, working hard, and continuously learning. My passion for chemistry has led to opportunities that I never thought were possible, such as a two-year postdoc (post doctoral research) in metropolitan D.C., working three months in Germany, and traveling to places like Prague to present at conferences.”