Hannah Steffke: On chemistry, track and ‘finding your people’

At Yale, when Steffke wasn’t studying molecular reactions and chemical transformations in a lab, the TD resident was likely running laps on a Yale track.
Hannah Steffke with friends

Hannah Steffke (in yellow, third from left) with friends

Hannah Steffke ’20 B.S. was still new at Yale when she took organic chemistry. Something clicked.

I really liked that form of problem solving,” said the senior from Beal City, Michigan. “I liked that way of thinking.”

Many chemistry courses later, Steffke, who would major in the subject, came to appreciate how chemistry can be used to solve global challenges. “Chemistry allows us to look at some of the world’s biggest scientific challenges — like climate change, cancer, and COVID-19 — on their smallest level,” Steffke said. She’s used chemistry at Yale to better understand everything from water purification, to antibiotic resistance and drug development.

Recently, working in the lab of Scott J. Miller, the Irénée du Pont Professor of Chemistry, studying peptide catalyzed reactions, Steffke began to envision a future in medicinal chemistry. She plans to apply to M.D./Ph.D. programs and to pursue a career in both medicinal and clinical research.

A Fulbright scholarship will help support her on that journey: In January, Steffke will begin a research program at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany, as part of a cancer drug development group. There, she will work on synthesizing and analyzing PROTACs (proteolysis targeting chimeras), a class of molecules pioneered by Yale’s Craig Crews, the John C. Malone professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and professor of chemistry, of pharmacology, and of management.

Hannah Steffke running in a track competition
Hannah Steffke competes

At Yale, when Steffke wasn’t studying molecular reactions and chemical transformations in a lab, the Timothy Dwight resident was likely running laps on a Yale track, training and competing as a member of the Bulldogs’ cross-country, track and field team.

Being on the team has been a huge part of my time at Yale, and my teammates are some of my best friends,” said Steffke, a distance runner who competed in 3,000- and 5,000-meter events and helped her team to its best finish in years at the 2020 Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships.

Because cross country and track are three-season sports, Steffke said, the athletes spend a lot of time together, forming tight bonds that serve them well in other realms of life.

Especially that first year when you are coming in,” said Steffke, “you have this tight-knit support group. These are all women who have gone through what you are going through. They know which classes to take, and they can help you navigate campus life.”

Running offered Steffke a mental break, an opportunity to lose herself in physical activity and raw competition. “It focuses you on something else,” she said. “And it keeps you motivated on and off the track. Practice was my favorite part of the day.”

Her advice to incoming Yale students is to sample Yale’s bounty.

That’s how you find your people,” Steffke said.

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Media Contact

Fred Mamoun: fred.mamoun@yale.edu, 203-436-2643