Going Pro In Something Other Than Sports

Brandon DeLisio

Video: Interview With Brandon DeLisio

By Laura Madaio
Special to GoHolyCross.com

Holy Cross senior lacrosse player Brandon DeLisio (Woodstock, N.Y.) has never had difficulty understanding that there is a reason why "student" comes first in the label of student-athlete.  With the support and influence of his parents, DeLisio earned National Honor Society recognition while juggling commitments to both varsity football and lacrosse at Kingston High School. "My parents kept me involved in a lot of things," said DeLisio. "I was always in the middle of doing stuff while school was going on, it was just the standard."

DeLisio has maintained that mindset throughout his years thus far at Holy Cross, which can account for three successful varsity seasons as a Crusader and recognition for his academic research through his recent honor with the Vanhook-Vidulich award.

With his priorities already in order and a newfound interest in the field of chemistry, DeLisio set off on the college search. "There were a lot of schools that I could have played lacrosse at, but had weak chemistry programs. Or other schools had very strong chemistry programs, but I wouldn't have been able to play lacrosse." DeLisio found the best of both worlds at Holy Cross, one of the nation's top producers of chemistry graduates certified by the American Chemical Society. "That fact was actually the number one thing to get me here," said DeLisio.

From the get go, DeLisio took complete advantage of any opportunity Holy Cross had to offer.  "My interest in research actually began at my orientation," he said with a laugh. "I asked a lot of questions." It was at his orientation in the summer of 2007 that he found out that research opportunities at Holy Cross were offered to undergrads. Something that "huge" (as DeLisio considered it) is a rarity among other colleges and universities.

As he began his freshman year as a Crusader, DeLisio took a seat in Professor Jude Kelley's course, Atoms and Molecules, which eventually led him toward his future successes in the field of science, something he never expected out of an entry level class. "I really, really liked it. He was a real nice guy and I was interested in his research. Who doesn't want to work with lasers?" DeLisio remarked excitedly. 

As the years carried on, DeLisio strengthened his relationship with Professor Kelley, who helped DeLisio begin his study and continues to support his current research. "Professor Kelley taught me everything. He showed me how to use a milling machine, which is what we use to create the actual set up; we use it to cut the aluminum and Teflon, which are the two main pieces used. I started learning electronics from him before I had even taken electronics class. I learned it all from Professor Kelley," DeLisio said proudly.

Although he speaks quite eloquently about his studies, the condensed version of the name of this instrument in which he has built and tested will leave you, as it has left others, baffled. "I am constructing a new type of corona discharge ion mobility spectrometer," he says quite swiftly. In simpler terms, DeLisio has developed an instrument used to detect trace amounts of explosives in airport security. "What makes his instrument unique is that it does not use a radioactive ionization source—it uses electricity instead," Professor Kelley explains. "Brandon has built almost every part of this instrument himself, which has included machining and etching the interior pieces, assembling the electronics used to control the experiment, and writing the software used for data collection."

The Vanhook-Vidulich award is given to a fourth year student for an excellent research thesis and presentation. DeLisio received the award as just a junior, an impressive oddity among other award recipients. "I was pretty psyched. It was unexpected. I actually didn't find out until the day before the award ceremony. I got an email from my dean the night before and I was really surprised," he said. "There was some tough competition with what students are doing here," he explained. "There are students who are doing some really intense research; kids come into the lab at midnight to run a reaction. I was really surprised that I had won the award."

DeLisio's recognition for his research began at a poster presentation he had at Holy Cross. However, DeLisio wasn't just getting praise from fellow students. "Every single kid on the lacrosse team showed up to my presentation," he said gratefully. "My coach showed up, my assistant coach, it was awesome just seeing all my teammates interested and wanting to know what's going on. It made me feel like I'm doing something important."

DeLisio has seemingly gone above and beyond in order to manage his time as well as his commitments. "Most student-athletes coming into a good school like Holy Cross have already done really well in high school to get here," he said. "They should already be aware of the commitment they are making."

Holy Cross head men's lacrosse coach Adam Pascal has made DeLisio's role as a student-athlete one to be made an example of. "My coach is really helpful, I've missed practices to do stuff for school and I have never been penalized," DeLisio explained. "He brings recruits over to the lab to show them the opportunities available for them at Holy Cross as students, and I think it's great that he can turn to me for stuff like that to get them interested."

Pascal knows that DeLisio is a key member of the squad. "Brandon is a great teammate and is always there for the team," said Pascal. "He works really hard and is from a great family. We are really proud of his success."

As for now, DeLisio looks forward to a promising final season of lacrosse and continues to develop his research in hopes of eventually pursuing a doctorate. Like many kids, DeLisio dreamt of being an astronaut, but after finding out he had colorblindness, he instead became deeply involved in other areas of science in order to develop different ideas for possible career paths. "I think it would be awesome to further expand my research so I could maybe work for the government after college, with homeland security or something military related," he said.

With a good head on his shoulders, his priorities in check, and all the support of the entire Holy Cross community, we can be sure Brandon DeLisio is headed toward a successful future both on and off the field.