For Alex Roth ’24, Class Marshal is His Latest Honor

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The chemistry and music double major has learned to follow his interests and curiosities because ‘I don’t like being bored’

Alex Roth '24, a chemistry and music double major and mathematics minor, has been named class marshal.
By Abigail Curtis Photography by Ashley L. Conti
May 24, 2024

Alex Roth ’24 has spent the last four years following his wide-ranging curiosity and love of learning—carving a path that ultimately led him to be named class marshal. 

The honor is given to the graduating senior with the highest grade point average, and it follows many other honors and awards bestowed on Roth, a chemistry and music double major and mathematics minor. 

Among those are being one of a handful of students elected to join Colby’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter as a third-year student, winning the nationally competitive science, math, and engineering-focused Goldwater Scholarship as a sophomore, and becoming the first student in the Chemistry Department to win the organic chemistry award as a first-year student. He’s also been named first author on five published academic papers, with several more in the pipeline—something that’s nearly unheard of for an undergraduate, according to Dasan Thamattoor, the J. Warren Merrill Professor in Chemistry and Natural History.  

But none of those tell the whole story of what makes the student from Pequea, Pa., so special. 

“I don’t have enough nice things to say about Alex,” Thamattoor said. “I have not seen a student like him ever in my life. I think it’s fair to say that he’s the kind of student who comes along once in a generation. He’s brilliant, and probably more important, unbelievably humble. Very self-deprecating, and extremely kind and compassionate.” 

From turtle training to Colby

Roth, who plans to go into synthetic chemistry, will start a Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago in the fall. He credits Colby with giving him the interdisciplinary freedom to pursue his interests, whether they brought him to Thamattoor’s chemistry lab in the Keyes Science Building, the piano practice rooms, where he played ragtime and jazz to his heart’s content, or the classrooms where he began taking “really hard” math courses in his senior year. 

“It was really great to be able to pursue music, math, and chemistry,” Roth said. “I just basically followed what I was interested in at any given time … because, really, I just want to follow things that I’m curious about. And if it so happens that the number ascribed to my grades is high, then that’s pretty cool. But really, I just want to pursue things I am interested in, and I did that. That’s why I’m happy about it and why Colby is cool.” 

“It has been a real privilege having him as a student. … I look forward to the many great things that lie ahead for this extraordinary young man.”

Associate Professor of Music Steven Nuss

In his musical studies, he appreciated taking classes with Associate Professor of Music Steven Nuss. 

“It has been a real privilege having him as a student. … I look forward to the many great things that lie ahead for this extraordinary young man,” Nuss said.  

Roth has never shied away from doing hard things, something that he began before he started college. As a high school student, Roth took a course called Advanced Placement Research, which necessitated that he undertake a research project about the spatial navigation and memory of the painted turtle. He used his research as the subject of his first published academic paper and derived satisfaction from doing something that wasn’t easy. 

“I like to challenge myself because otherwise I get bored, and I don’t like being bored,” Roth said. 

A special award from his peers

Once at Colby, he knew he wanted to study chemistry, but wasn’t exactly sure which branch of chemistry would be the right fit. He did have an inkling that it would be organic chemistry, a notoriously difficult field that looks at the structure, properties, and reactions of organic compounds. 

“Really, the reason I chose organic chemistry was because everyone talks about how hard it was, and I said, ‘Well, I want to see about that,’” Roth remembered. “And it was hard. But I got into a lab in organic chemistry, and I really loved it.” 

That was Thamattoor’s lab, where Roth made a positive impression from the beginning. 

“It is no secret that organic chemistry is rarely the favorite class of most students. It demands a lot from them by way of commitment, perseverance, and good study habits,” Thamattoor wrote in Roth’s graduate school recommendation letter. “Alex, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on the challenge. He seemed to have a natural aptitude for the subject and mastered the material with consummate ease.” 

In the lab, Roth made a home for himself. He delved into research, presenting it at conferences in San Diego, Calif., in the spring of 2022 and in Hiroshima, Japan, in the summer of 2022. He and David Ramgren ’24 were the only undergraduates to present their work in Japan, winning a research prize. Roth also tutored peers, was elected co-president of the ChemClub, and always served as an affable, kind, and intelligent presence. 

This spring, he won a special award in the Chemistry Department, known informally as “The Stan Award.” It’s given every year by the senior chemistry majors to the senior who has been the most helpful to them. Because Roth loves coffee, the students got him a thermos in Colby blue with his name and the chemical formula for caffeine inscribed on it. 

It’s a treasure from Colby that he will take with him to Chicago. 

“This is a kid who’s not only brilliant, but everybody gravitates to him,” Thamattoor said. “All the students picked Alex this year.”