Chemist named U.S. Professor of the Year

Author: Gail Hinchion Mancini

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| *Dennis Jacobs and students Bob Stachecki and Araceli Bonilla discuss lead-testing techniques before taking samples in a South Bend home./ Heather Gollatz * ||
p. p. Throughout my teaching career, I have sought innovative ways to provide enriching educational experiences for undergraduate students. These have included revitalizing the first-year General Chemistry course to give greater access to at-risk students, developing discovery-based rather than recipe-driven laboratory experiments, and introducing community-based learning opportunities within the chemistry curriculum. For each of these projects, I have tried to align the learning objectives, pedagogical approach, and assessment strategies so that I could systematically document some of the connections between teaching practice and student learning. Two recent examples illustrate the nature of this work.p. p. At the University of Notre Dame, General Chemistry is traditionally taught in four large lecture sections – each with approximately 250 students. Unfortunately, many students struggle to learn in the large lecture environment, because they don’t become actively engaged in the processes of inquiry and synthesizing knowledge. In the fall of 1997, I introduced an alternative approach to teaching General Chemistry which features regular occasions where students gather in small groups to collaboratively answer conceptual questions or solve complex problems. In these structured peer discussions, students are exposed to multiple perspectives and are challenged to defend their own ideas. For each of the past five years, this revised pedagogical approach has been applied to a section of 240 at-risk students – those students with the lowest scores on the math portion of the SAT among the 1,000 Notre Dame freshmen who enroll in General Chemistry each fall.p. As a 1999-2000 Carnegie Scholar, I conducted studies to determine the impact of the new course with its collaborative learning components. Results showed a 55 percent improvement in the yearlong retention rate of at-risk students enrolled in General Chemistry. Most notably, there was a 50 percent increase in the number of at-risk students who went on to complete a second full year of chemistry. There also has been a 50 percent increase in the number of at-risk students who are majoring in the sciences, as measured three semesters after they complete the yearlong General Chemistry course.p. p. This semester, I designed and instituted a new course entitled “Chemistry in Service of the Community.” Lead poisoning presents a serious risk to the neurological development of young children. Approximately 5-9% of local children under the age of six have blood lead levels greater than the CDC action level. Students enrolled in this course join with community partners in evaluating lead contamination in area homes. Chemistry students interact with residents in local neighborhoods; provide information on the health risks associated with lead poisoning; collect paint chips, soil, and dust samples; and analyze the samples in Notre Dame’s chemistry labs. When a particular home environment is determined to have unsafe lead levels, students work with the homeowner to reduce the risk of a child becoming lead poisoned.p. p. My engagement with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has not only informed and transformed the way I teach, but it has introduced me to new and exciting lines of inquiry and investigation that complement my ongoing laboratory-based research program.p. p. p. p. p.

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