Posted May 20, 2008

Double-major views life from behind the camera, through the microscope

Bacherlor of science: chemistry, bachelor of arts: film and media arts

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

After three years as a film and media arts major, Sean Keuleyan added chemistry as a second major. Keuleyan will continue to study chemistry at the University of Chicago, and is already thinking of ways he can combine his interests in both fields.

While film and chemistry may seem to be at opposite ends of the academic spectrum, Sean Keuleyan sees a lot of similarities between the two.

“There is a lot of creativity in both; there needs to be a lot of thought going into what you are doing, and they often follow the same thought processes,” said the fifth-year senior.

Keuleyan spent his first three years at Temple University as a film and media arts major. But he always had an interest in the sciences, which is why he is receiving dual bachelor’s degrees in film and chemistry from Temple.

“I think deep down, I always wanted to get into the sciences in some way, but I wasn’t sure I could see myself working in a laboratory the rest of my life,” said Keuleyan, 25, a 2001 graduate of Columbia (Pa.) High School.

Feeling pushed by family and school counselors to go to college after high school, Keuleyan enrolled at Penn State-York. But, lacking direction, he withdrew after less than a semester.

After leaving college, Keuleyan worked for about 18 months in a grocery warehouse “throwing boxes onto a conveyor belt. When you’re 18 years old, $17 an hour sounds great,” he said. “I made some money and had a little bit of fun, but I had no free time and the job was completely mindless. After a year and a half of that, I was drowning in it.”

Keuleyan had gotten into video production while in high school, and he started to consider pursuing a career in filmmaking. A friend from high school who had attended Temple as a film and media arts major and who now is working successfully in Los Angeles also served as an inspiration.

He applied to Temple, was accepted, and arrived on campus in the fall of 2003, spending the next three years as a film and media arts major. “I was doing well and really enjoying it,” Keuleyan said.

But during his freshman year, he met and started dating Noriko Udagawa, an international student from Japan who was majoring in biochemistry.

“Every once in a while, a conversation would come up about biochemistry and it always seemed interesting,” Keuleyan recalled. “Eventually, I started accompanying her to the Chemistry Department seminars, where visiting researchers come in and talk about the work they are doing. I’m sitting through these things, and some of them are pretty interesting to me.”

That’s where he met Chemistry Professor Eric Borguet in the spring of 2006.

“My first meeting with him, he knew nothing about me,” Keuleyan said. “He probably assumed I was a freshman chemistry major. Finally, I told him I was a third-year film major and asked him if majoring in chemistry was an option; was this something I could do?”

Borguet immediately said yes and took Keuleyan under his wing. He encouraged Keuleyan to continue attending the seminars, explained his research and invited him to sit in on meetings of his research group.

The two sat down and began to formulate a plan of what would be required for Keuleyan to finish his degree in film, but also get a degree in chemistry. “I didn’t want to completely let go of my film degree,” he said.

In fact, Keuleyan has thought about ways of merging chemistry with film.

“The biggest way I have seen is the use of media in science, especially in education,” he said. “Using media to link the abstract science with more general knowledge is something that I think I can carry forward.”

Keuleyan eventually was given projects of Borguet’s research group to work on, and currently, he is using scanning probe microscopy to understand how molecules act on surfaces.

He has been accepted into the prestigious graduate chemistry program at the University of Chicago, where hopes to earn his doctorate and then continue working in academic setting with his own research group someday.

“If I hadn’t run into Dr. Borguet in 2006, none of this would have likely happened,” said Keuleyan. “Temple has been everything to me. I’ve been here for five years. This really has happened because of the faculty who has supported me and Dr. Borguet, who has mentored me through this whole process.”