Kharial Clark ’23 graduated this spring with her biochemistry degree, balancing rigorous coursework and research with a central role as captain of the women’s basketball team.
“Knowing I had two demanding aspects of my life, on the court and in the STEM major, I really had to manage my time well,” Clark said. And she excelled in both arenas.
As a scholar at Loyola Marymount University, Clark studied quadruplex DNA. In her research with her chemistry mentor Jeremy McCallum, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the LMU Frank R. Seaver College of Engineering, Clark uses tools and techniques such as a circular dichroism spectrophotometer and florescence and measures KD – or binding efficiency.
“We’re taking G-quadruplexes in different areas of the genome, and binding them to different peptides, to different RNA, and seeing how tightly they bind to the DNA quadraplex, if it compromises the structure,” Clark said of her research.
Dedicated from the jump, she took 19 credit hours of classes during her freshman year (a combination of “braveness and ignorance,” she said) and pushed herself to perform academically. She became a prestigious McNair Scholar, a program designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.
“I’ve always loved learning and I have a natural curiosity,” Clark said. “I have always asked a lot of questions, like, ‘How does this work? Why is the sky blue? Why does the wind blow? Science just answers a lot questions and provides you a lot of certainty about the world around you.’”
As an athlete, Clark was captain of the women’s hoops team, a 6’2” forward who over the course of her collegiate career per game averaged 6.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, a blocked shot, and an assist. In three seasons, she led the Lions in blocks; once, in rebounds. A gracious player, she was never given a technical foul during a game.
Balancing her academic trajectory with the significant practice time, conditioning, games and weekend travel commitments of an NCAA Division 1 basketball player was a challenge Clark took to well. She was a true team player, on and off the court.
“I couldn’t make it without my support system, and my support system is really complex – it consists of my teammates, my coaches, my friends, my classmates, my professors, my family. I couldn’t do it without them,” Clark said.
Clark became interested in chemistry as a high school sophomore in Denver, CO, where she attended Thomas Jefferson High School. After being introduced to McCallum at LMU during a recruiting visit, she knew she wanted to study with him. And although her degree is all her own, she certainly didn’t do it alone.
“When people look at me,” she continued, “I represent all of them in a way. I want to make sure that they know that I’m only here because of them. I’m only here because of my family. I’m only here because of my friends. And I’m only here because my coaches took a chance on me,” she said.
Family members – including her mom, dad, brothers and sisters, grandmother, and nieces and nephews – traveled from all over the country to celebrate Clark’s milestone achievements and bright future.
“You see this finished picture of me – it’s because my teammates pushed me and saw me in the most vulnerable places ever. They pushed me to do what I did. And now I’m here relishing the moment, and being very fulfilled and happy. I just want to say thank you to them.”
Next up for the star student and athlete: Clark will continue her studies in health sciences as a master’s student at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. And since she’s still eligible for one more year of NCAA basketball, she’ll likely still be striking that balance of scientist and athlete, with genuine aplomb.