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Ballet Dancer Turned Scientist Pirouettes Toward Law School

Recent UAlbany graduate Kelly Gordon dancing with The California Ballet Company at age 17. (Photos by Brad Matthews, The California Ballet Company)  

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 9, 2015) -- Former ballet dancer Kelly Gordon recently graduated from the University at Albany at Winter Commencement, taking a figurative final bow after accepting the Shelton Bank Prize from the department of chemistry for excellence in undergraduate research.

Gordon’s first love was dancing. At age 14, she danced with The California Ballet Company in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She learned discipline from practicing seven days a week. “The strenuous agenda is all worth it for the moments spent bathed in spectacular lighting, dressed in the most beautiful of tutus, exploring fantastic worlds on a stage in front of thousands,” said Gordon, who grew up in Alpine, near San Diego, Calif.

“The audience gazing upon ballet dancers might think our days are spent looking this graceful, our minds only pondering sugar plum fairies, handmaidens, and romance when in reality the stage is filled with a group of calculated, systematic, disciplined scientists performing a physical experiment,” wrote the Goldwater Scholar runner-up in an essay she drafted as she prepares to apply to law schools later this month.

Gordon draws parallels between her research in the chemistry lab of Professor John Welch and the beauty of dance.

“Much like the hidden, scientific world of ballet, I have never found more artistry than during my time in the laboratory,” she said. “The dancer in me resonated most with synthetic organic chemistry: There was such a satisfying balance between creativity and ingenuity to be found while working in the Welch lab. On many days, it felt like we were a company performing a new piece.”

Gordon found the research environment at UAlbany to be unique. “The fluorine research done at UAlbany with Dr. Welch is something very few labs in the nation have the ability or opportunity to do, and I feel very lucky that I was able to learn such a specialized and exciting type of chemistry.”

Likewise, Welch has high praise for Gordon.

“Kelly has about a 3.94 GPA and is one of those rare but really super young people that we see once in a while,” said Welch.

While taking an animal behavior class at University of California San Diego (UCSD), Gordon became interested in science, conducting research on animal vocal development. She stopped dancing professionally because of the extensive time commitment required, and while at UCSD, took up surfing and yoga.

Later, she worked in a lab at Princeton University and while there, decided to pursue chemistry at UAlbany.

“My love for creative thinking and the development of completely novel entities drives me in the synthetic organic chemistry lab,” said Gordon. After law school, she plans to become a patent attorney. She believes patent attorneys apply their creativity and linguistic talents to usher new inventions from their birth to maturity in the economy and industry.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.