Learn from outstanding scholars and committed mentors: Professor Toni Barstis and Diana Vega Pantoja

If you wanted to describe chemistry Professor Toni Barstis in laboratory terms, you’d call her a catalyst—someone who enables significant change. Or maybe you’d call her a supercharged ion sharing her energy.

Either way, students who interact with this dynamic professor find themselves changed, charged, and on fire for science. In many cases, working with Barstis has inspired students to choose chemistry as a career.

“I can’t imagine a more supportive, energetic, and demanding mentor than Dr. Barstis,” says chemistry major Diana Vega Pantoja, Class of 2013. “She believes in us and pushes us to achieve our highest potential. She goes out of her way to help us and will even meet on Sundays. She is passionate about getting women interested in science in general, not only chemistry.”

“She believes in us and pushes us to achieve our highest potential."

Like all Saint Mary’s professors, Barstis not only teaches classes, she serves as an ardent mentor to students, partnering with them in research, connecting them to internships and fellowships, and guiding and encouraging their discovery of the chemical world.

“To me, teaching is just as important as my research,” says Barstis. “It’s invigorating every day to work with these brilliant young women. I am in awe of their talent, enthusiasm, and determination to use science to improve our world.”

And Barstis's influence on students is outstanding. Since 1993, she has served as academic advisor and mentor to 45 students. Not only did all of them graduate, 24 have completed advanced degrees, including 19 who have completed or are in the process of completing doctoral programs. Furthermore, her former students have completed 55 scholarly publications.

In addition to advising, Barstis connects students with hands-on opportunities. For example, she guided Diana and several other students this summer in a prestigious 10-week nanotechnology fellowship through the University of Notre Dame. They worked on developing methods to detect counterfeit medicines in third world countries. “It was an amazing experience, especially because our research has the potential to save lives,” Diana says.

Barstis also guides Diana through the Dual Degree in Engineering Program between Saint Mary’s and the University of Notre Dame. Diana will earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Saint Mary’s and then enroll for a fifth year of study at Notre Dame to earn a second bachelor’s in chemical engineering. Barstis is the advisor for the program, coaching and encouraging the students through the rigorous curriculum. “Professor Barstis is not only totally committed to giving us the best education possible, she personally wants us to succeed and do good in the world,” Diana says. “She’s such an inspiration to future women scientists.”