Teaching Experience

Butler University

2010-present - Lecturer in Organic Chemistry

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Fall 2009 - Future Faculty Fellow, Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellow

2008-2009 - GAANN Fellow

2005-2006, 2008 - Laboratory Teaching Assistant

Honors and Memberships

  • 2004-present
  • 2013
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2009-2010
  • 2008-2010
  • 2005
  • 2005
  • 2001-2005
  • 2004
  • Member, American Chemical Society
  • Butler University SGA "Apple for You" Teaching Award
  • Butler University SGA "Apple for You" Teaching Award
  • Butler University SGA "Apple for You" Teaching Award
  • Future Faculty Fellow
  • Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellow
  • Francis Venable Summer Research Fellowship
  • Frederick Miller, S.J. Award for the Highest Distinction in Chemistry
  • University Scholar, Xavier University Honors Program
  • American Chemical Society Polymer Education Committee Award

Teaching Philosophy

Most of the students in my organic chemistry class are not going to go on to become actual organic chemists. I recognize that. Therefore, I see my role in the classroom less as a disseminator of organic chemistry reactions and mechanisms, and more as a guide helping my students take a very important step forward in their educational maturity. I am very upfront with my students about this, and what follows is a rough outline of what I tell my students on the first day of every semester.

Organic chemistry is a challenging course; however, I truly believe anyone can succeed in organic chemistry with the right attitude and work ethic. There will be a lot of nomenclature and “book learning.” There will be times we have to make difficult decisions about the potential outcome of a reaction when given conflicting information. And in lab we are going to be working with our hands learning new techniques and skills. If maybe 10-15% of my students are planning on being chemists (and maybe only one or two actual organic chemists), students often ask themselves why they need to take organic chemistry.

If I am honest with myself, in ten years, no one will be asking these students to draw the mechanism of the anti-Markovnikov radical addition of HBr to an alkene. But there is another career field that requires exemplary employees to master the terminology, make difficult decisions with conflicting information, and work with their hands: health care providers. Really, all pharmacists and medical professionals need these skills to stand out in their field. If my students are not going to become organic chemists, the health services industry is their likely career goal, and I try to make the class as beneficial to these students as to the pure chemistry majors.

The secret I tell my students is that I am not really here to teach them organic chemistry. I am here to teach them how to think about thinking, how to learn about learning. I am here to help them take the first steps away from thinking “like a student” toward thinking “like a doctor.” This is why I passionately believe that pre-health professional majors – not just chemistry majors – are required to take organic chemistry. Medical schools want to see that students can think like a doctor, and sophomore organic chemistry is perhaps the first place these students have been challenged not to engage in “trivial recall,” but to apply their understanding to novel situations.

I tell my students that we are not really learning organic chemistry, we are learning how to learn. We’re learning how to fit new information into what we already know, extract new information through pattern recognition, and do something new and unique with that information. Students will not be tested on trivia recall, but analysis and application of their knowledge, even to unknown scenarios.

This can be challenging for students, especially students who have thrived educationally in the “trivia recall” system. But I encourage my students to remember the course goal: it is not about the reactions, it is about the process. I want my students to learn the process of thinking through a reaction and its mechanism, not merely memorizing the reactions. That way they can take the process with them when they leave and apply it to courses in medical school and in their medical practice (or whatever career they land in).

Now, of course, the way I assess whether they know the process is by asking them organic chemistry questions, so they do still need to know the reactions and mechanisms.

There will be times in my organic chemistry course where I ask them questions using reagents they have maybe never seen before in exactly this combination, but I ask them to predict the product and propose a plausible mechanism for the transformation. This is often frustrating for students, because they are often comfortable with algorithmic, use-the-same-equation-every-time approaches to problems. But I require them to take those reagents, combine them with the information they already know, and do something unique with them. I require this because this is exactly the job description of a doctor or other medical professional. They may not have seen this particular constellation of symptoms in exactly this presentation before, but they will need to take those symptoms, synthesize them with the information they already know, and come up with something unique like a diagnosis or a treatment plan.

To help students get to that level of understanding, my organic chemistry course is concerned with the synthesis and knowledge of reactivity patterns and the application of those patterns in novel combinations. I focus heavily on mechanisms and investigating why reactions occur as they do. If I had a motto for how I teach organic chemistry, it would be this: understanding why a reaction occurs is much more important than remembering that a reaction occurs.

I have developed a guide to organic chemistry problems I call the “6 Truths of Organic Chemistry.” Stressing key concepts such as “nucleophiles attack electrophiles,” “weaker acid wins,” “mind formal charges,” “2nd best resonance structure predicts reactivity,” “3 elementary steps of carbonyl addition,” and “number the carbon atoms,” students are encouraged to reduce new concepts to these core principles. With these tools, students may have never seen a set of reactants before, but they at least have the tools to approach the problem with an educated guess.

I utilize a variety of learning methods to assess the extent to which students are grasping the material. When part of a new mechanism parallels something the class has seen before, I will ask the students to predict the next step based on what they know about the reactivity of the intermediates. I have turned my teaching of the acid/base chapter into a guided inquiry worksheet instead of lecturing this chapter. The guided inquiry worksheet allows students to work in small groups and take the scientific method into their own hands by being given short explanatory paragraphs, then being asked guided questions with the goal of students uncovering the concepts for themselves. The group synthesizes data to arrive at concepts and conclusions as a group instead of merely listening to a professor lecture every minute of every class. I also assign students to write out the mechanism of a reaction in prose several times per semester to ensure students fully understand why and how a reaction occurs.

At the end of a semester in my classroom, students should be able to take the underlying principles I have emphasized and apply them to known and unknown systems. But, recognizing that many of my students will not continue on to be laboratory chemists, I hope this approach to learning and to problem solving carries over. Students graduating today need more than degrees. They need degrees with value added. The value I try to add to my students is metacognition, engaged problem solving, pattern recognition, and concept application. Regardless of my students’ degree, I want them to be able to make an impact in their field when they leave my classroom.