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Campus Celebrity: Professor Andrew Kennedy

Whether you’ve had the privilege of having Andrew Kennedy as a professor or you’ve simply seen him around campus, it’s time to get to know him!

Our latest Campus Celebrity is Andrew Kennedy! He is a professor in the chemistry department at Bates College, and is currently teaching two courses, “Organic Chemistry,” and “Mechanisms of Memory.” When he isn’t in Dana Chemistry Hall, you can find him throwing around a Frisbee with the Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Team. Although this is only Professor Kennedy’s second year teaching at Bates, he is much more than just a professor – he is a brilliant researcher, mentor, and friend.

Originally from Danville, Pennsylvania, Kennedy has felt at home in a myriad of other places including Providence, Rhode Island, where he attended Providence College, and Charlottesville, Virginia during the time he attended the University of Virginia. With the warm sense of community that he feels on Bates campus, he has found yet another place that he can call home.

Kennedy initially went to college with the intent of trying to become a priest. However, this idea wasn’t so easy, as he didn’t particularly believe in any of the dogma; nonetheless, he loved the sense of community, support, and intellectual nature that came with it. He frequently spoke to a friar at his college, who eventually told him that he would be an absolutely awful priest, but perhaps not the worst professor.

With that in mind, he teaches organic chemistry with a genuine passion for the subject. Now, you may be wondering, “Who can be so passionate about a notoriously difficult course that every pre-med student dreads?” Professor Kennedy might have asked himself this question when he felt nearly defeated by his introductory chemistry classes, thus contemplating switching his major from chemistry to history. However, one of his professors encouraged him to take organic chemistry, and Kennedy ended up doing great in the class and loving the content – he even earned the organic chemistry award at his school!

After graduating from Providence College in 2005 with a major in chemistry, Kennedy immediately went to graduate school at the University of Virginia to study drug development. As the complexities of the mind, intelligence, and memory fascinated him, he grew interested in neuroscience. Thus, under a cancer project, he conducted research to develop drug-like molecules that alter the epigenome – or in other terms, design and synthesize drugs that turn genes on and off. He received his PhD in drug discovery, also referred to as medicinal chemistry.

With the drug-like molecules that he successfully synthesized, Kennedy tested them on mice to explore genes associated with cancer in the brain for his postdoctoral research. Additionally, he was interested in looking at intellect disability, so he observed mice with impaired cognition and memory. His studies found that giving these mice a drug he synthesized resulted in a boost of neuronal plasticity, which enabled the mice to normally perform tasks, such as solving mazes.

Professor Kennedy considers researching intellect disability by examining one disorder associated with one gene as the most important thing he has done in his life thus far. He has particularly looked at the specific gene involved in Hopkins syndrome. He has met many friends and families affected by this genetic disorder, so his compassion, along with his intellectual curiosity, drives his motivation to continue researching the mind, intelligence, and memory.

Receiving a grant from the National Institute of Health to conduct his current research here at Bates, Kennedy expanded his study on intellect disability to explore if intelligence, cognition, and memory in regular mice can be broadly improved. He performs surgical procedures in mice and utilizes gene knockout and knockdown models. Excited that his research attracts many Bates students, he is advising six seniors who are working under his project for their senior theses this year.

The chemistry department at Bates College is trying to start an American Chemical Society (ACS) chapter; this is essentially a chemistry club, in which members can discuss chemistry with each other as well as attend conferences to talk about chemistry on both local and national levels with other ACS chapters. Professor Kennedy is an ACS member, so if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask him! He is also the Bates representative for the Society for Neuroscience (SFM). Within both societies, he attends conferences and reviews articles for science journals.

With his passions for chemistry and neuroscience, Professor Kennedy chose to teach at Bates with a goal to bridge these two totally disconnected scientific fields. The new course, “Mechanisms of Memory,” that he is teaching focuses on the chemical level of how memory is stored and recalled in the human brain; this course that is cross-listed as chemistry and neuroscience engages students in fusing fields of neuroscience, chemistry, biology, and psychology. If this doesn’t epitomize the beauty of liberal arts, then I don’t know what does.

I had the privilege of taking Organic Chemistry I and II with Professor Kennedy last year. Just like any other pre-med student, I was absolutely dreading a full year of organic chemistry. Professor Kennedy’s enthusiasm, passion, and patience that evidently seeped through his teaching made me actually, dare I say, enjoy learning organic chemistry.

Of course his organized lectures and perfect attendance – even when there were 20 inches of snow on the ground AND a blizzard – are remarkable, Professor Kennedy’s relationship with his students is what distinguishes him from the average professor; his genuine efforts of building personal connections with his students not only contribute to Bates’ famous claim to having a close student-faculty relationship, but also reveal his friendly charisma that inspires students inside and outside of the classroom.

Take a class with Professor Kennedy, or even sit in on one of his classes with his permission, so you can experience his mesmerizing brilliance and his contagious curiosity and desire to learn. If you’re not a science type of person, that’s okay – he likes talking about 19th century American politics too!

Emma Futamura is a junior at Bates College, double-majoring in Biochemistry and Women & Gender studies and minoring in Japanese. She's from Westchester, New York, so she can appreciate a good New York bagel. If she's not in the gym, you can find her in the library or her bed. 
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