Westmont Magazine Back to Oxford with a Passion for Research

Lexy Gillette ’22 had planned to attend a large research university after graduating from high school in Bend, Oregon. But she discovered an old, dusty Westmont piggy bank in her room that her uncle, Marcus Gillette ’05, had given her and decided to visit the college. “I got out of the car and something felt right, and I absolutely loved it,” she says.

Lexy graduates from Westmont in May with a double major in physics and chemistry, and she’ll attend the University of Oxford in the fall after earning the prestigious John and Daria Barry Foundation Scholarship. Given to about 10 students each year from select institutions, the award covers tuition, fees and living expenses and provides a stipend and research and travel allowances for at least two years. She’s pursuing a doctorate in inorganic chemistry at Oxford.

She fell in love with chemistry in high school and petitioned the school for more physics classes when she ran out of ones to take. Westmont offered her an Augustinian Scholarship, making her top choice possible. She has conducted research with Michael Everest, professor of chemistry, and Allan Nishimura, emeritus distinguished professor of chemistry.

“Lexy is an exceptionally bright and gifted student in the classroom and the research laboratory,” Everest says. “She is unusually interested in using science to pursue knowledge rather than as a means to power. She is a humble and cooperative scholar.”

“Lexy has the unique ability to integrate her knowledge of physics with other areas that she is studying within the LIBERAL ARTS environment, even linking some concepts to philosophical ideas she has learned about in other contexts,” says Robert Haring-Kaye, professor of physics. “She is clearly dedicated to learning physics, which she has done extraordinarily well, and connecting that knowledge to open- ended inquiry.”

She has held internships at Serán Bioscience in Oregon, Northrop Grumman in Goleta and UC Davis. At Serán, which offers drug development services, she learned detailed lab notebook skills while testing spray-dried dispersions in a quality control lab.

Her work at Northrop Grumman focused mostly on microwave engineering. She conducted physics research at UC Davis, examining Chevrel-phase high- critical-field superconductors.

Initially, she thought of pursuing a doctorate in physical chemistry, but a UC Davis professor suggested she explore inorganic chemistry instead. “I discovered that’s the kind of research that interests me the most,” she says.

She studied at Oxford in spring 2021 through a program with the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. “The UK went into lockdown due to COVID-19 while I was on the plane, and nothing was open except for grocery and liquor stores,” Lexy says.

During the augmented program, she studied optics and classical mechanics. “I did an undergraduate research seminar and studied Jane Austen, which was absolutely amazing. I hadn’t read Jane Austen before.”

When she returns to Oxford this fall, she looks forward to the intellectual community she got a taste of last year. She also had a transformational experience at a church she attended. “I’m so excited to go back to the sense of community I had there, meeting new people every week,” she says. “I was meeting physicists from Austria and a man who had traveled to 97 countries. The stories we shared were amazing.”

She expects to pursue a career that involves research. “I can have a terrible day and then go to the lab, and four hours later, I’m on top of the world,” she says.

God’s provision encourages Lexy. “There is no way any of this happened without him,” she says. “My studies at Westmont have given me a more solid foundation in my faith, and I know how to think about my faith intellectually. I’ve asked some of the hard questions.

“Westmont faculty pose questions without telling you what to believe. They give you a bunch of resources and encourage you to read and think about issues from multiple sides and then let you decide what to think based on the evidence, which I really appreciate. I’ve absolutely loved it here.”

Lexy’s aunt, Kerry McGuigan Gillette ’05, also attended Westmont.