In the Fall of 2017, Emory’s Department of Chemistry overhauled its undergraduate curriculum to introduce a more interdisciplinary approach to teaching chemistry. The new course structure, named Chemistry Unbound, was designed to weave concepts of traditional chemistry disciplines together, giving students a more comprehensive foundation of the field.
This curriculum reform was described in “Chemistry Unbound: Designing a New Four-Year Undergraduate Curriculum”, written with contributions from Tracy L. McGill, Leah C. Williams, Douglas R. Mulford, Simon B. Blakey, Robert J. Harris, James T. Kindt, David G. Lynn, Patricia A. Marsteller, Frank E. McDonald, and Nichole L. Powell. The article, which was recently published in the Journal of Chemical Education, has been selected by the ACS as “Editors’ Choice”. This recognition highlights the value of the publication as a significant contribution to the global scientific community.
We are so proud of the success of Chemistry Unbound! Congratulations who everyone who contributed to such a wonderful accomplishment!
Carli Kovel is a chemistry enthusiast through and through. She spends her time conducting research in an inorganic chemistry lab, but has found herself interested in a wide range of topics in chemistry. And while her passion for all things chemistry may be making it a bit difficult for her to decide on a future career path just yet, Carli’s widespread interests have also opened the door for her to explore several potential avenues.
Before deciding to come to Emory in 2014, Carli had considered other schools where she might pursue her undergraduate degree. After visiting the Emory campus and meeting with some faculty members in the chemistry department, her mind was pretty much made up. Her decision to come to Emory was only made easier after learning about all the research going on here. “There is such amazing and impactful research going on at Emory and I was eager to get involved,” says Carli. “I felt like there were so many opportunities where I could become immersed in amazing projects.”
When she enrolled in Dr. Tracy McGill’s General Chemistry 141 class, Carli became even more excited about the subject and declared a chemistry major. The more she learned about chemistry, the more passionate she became. Beyond just attending classes and completing coursework, Carli regularly attended office hours, where she was able to dive even deeper into the material and start asking more complex and thoughtful questions.
In fact, her experience in chemistry 141 class was so impactful, Carli went on to become a Chemistry Mentor for the course. As a Chemistry Mentor, Carli continued to attend the class and serve as a resource for the more junior students. By being available to answer questions and discuss complicated or confusing material, she could help other students find success in the course or even identify their own passion for chemistry. Now, even though the chemistry 141 class has been replaced by the new Chemistry Unbound curriculum, Carli continues to stay involved as a Chemistry Mentor. She feels as though the new course layout has improved the flow of the material and allows for a more fluid way of learning chemistry.
Not only does this role as chemistry mentor give her experience with leadership and teaching, it also helps her develop an even deeper understanding of the chemistry material, an advantage which has proved to be immensely useful in a research setting. Carli is now an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Dr. Cora Macbeth where she studies aerobic catechol oxidation, an important organic reaction. In industry, the oxidation of compounds can be notably harmful to the environment, so much research effort is currently going toward improving this process through the use of cheaper and safer catalysts. Carli focuses on using copper and cobalt, two transition metals whose ability to easily gain and lose electrons makes them particularly useful as redox catalysts.
During her time in the MacBeth lab, Carli has gained extensive training in the techniques of inorganic chemistry. She has spent time learning paramagnetic NMR and working in a nitrogen atmosphere glove box. “Carli is a wonderful scientist and researcher. She is driven, inquisitive and doesn’t back away from challenges in the laboratory,” says Dr. MacBeth. “She has been working on some particularly difficulty syntheses, with very air-sensitive species and she has done an outstanding job characterizing these reactive species.” Beyond developing a diverse arsenal of chemical techniques, Carli has also developed a more abstract way of thinking about science and an appreciation for scientific creativity through experimental design. Carli has found it interesting and helpful to see some of the concepts she learned in class translated to the laboratory setting and has even found herself applying the concepts of chemistry to other classes, from history to poetry.
Emory’s Department of Chemistry provided Carli with the opportunity to travel to Italy with the Summer Studies in Siena program. She spent six weeks overseas experiencing Italian culture while taking three courses to expand her chemistry knowledge. During her time in Italy, Carli learned about the history and culture of Rome, the chemistry of food and wine, and the research happening at the University of Siena. Her experiences ranged from visiting a vineyard to learn the process of wine making first-hand to synthesizing an artificial meniscus to be used to mimic the articular cartilage in the human knee! Carli loved her time studying abroad and considers it to be one of the best summers of her life. “It was amazing to be immersed in that culture!” says Carli.
In case coursework, mentoring, and research doesn’t keep Carli busy enough, she is also involved in several organizations at Emory. She currently serves as the Co-President of Hybrid Vigor, a student-run online interdisciplinary science magazine and as the Co-President of The Survivor Anthology, a literary magazine that collects poems, stories, and visual arts from survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Additionally, Carli serves as Treasurer of Emory Undergraduate Medical Review, a student-run medical research journal, and as a campus tour guide. As a tour guide, she enjoys introducing prospective students to the great things Emory has to offer. “I love telling people why I am passionate about Emory. I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences and I really want to share them with prospective students,” says Carli.
Even though Carli is confident in navigating her way around Emory’s campus, she is still on a mission to find her future career path. Being interested in several different topics within the field of chemistry has given her a lot to consider before choosing a direction, but has also given her the freedom to explore several different possibilities. “Everything I’ve done so far with the department, I’ve loved,” says Carli. “I just want to keep taking more classes and see where that leads.” With graduation not far off, Carli is excited about what her future holds.
In 2005, Antonio Brathwaite relocated from the South Caribbean to South Carolina, where he attended the College of Charleston on a full athletic scholarship. Shortly thereafter, he transferred to Erskine College where he donned a maroon #15 jersey for their men’s soccer team. While he undoubtedly knew his way around the soccer field, choosing a field of study proved to be a much greater challenge. At the time, Dr. Brathwaite was planning on pursuing his degree in physics, but he struggled to find himself truly excited by the coursework. After briefly considering sociology as a major, he decided to switch to chemistry, a decision which proved to be the right one after his first sophomore chemistry class.
While at Erskine College, Dr. Brathwaite conducted undergraduate summer research in the lab of Dr. Michael Duncan at the University of Georgia. He developed a deeper interest in chemistry as well as a rapport with Dr. Duncan. Dr. Duncan would go on to invite Dr. Brathwaite to join his lab as a graduate student, an offer which he graciously accepted.
“I am passionate about empowering and inspiring students to find their purpose in life and develop the courage to walk in that purpose,” says Dr. Brathwaite. “My goal is to use chemistry as a platform to help students develop and refine the skills that they will need to realize their fullest potential.” This commitment to student success and empowerment was incredibly apparent to Dr. Tracy McGill, fellow undergraduate professor and chair of Dr. Brathwaite’s hiring committee. “From my initial introduction to Dr. Brathwaite through his application materials, he stood out as an engaged, creative scholar who is focused on the student experience and success,” says Dr. McGill. “He thinks deeply about teaching scientific practices with engaging, ‘real-world’ applications.”
Currently, Dr. Brathwaite teaches physical chemistry labs to junior and senior undergraduate students. While the material for this course can be a bit daunting, Dr. Brathwaite maintains a good rapport with the students by practicing an inclusive and transparent teaching style. “I make it my duty to be as open with my students as possible. It is a lot easier to convince someone about the quantum mechanical explanation for chemical bonds if you have a bond with them,” he says.
This creative, student-centered approach is appreciated by both students and colleagues. “During his first few months in our department, he has shown that he is devoted to supporting our amazing group of chemistry majors through a rigorous lab experience, but also by advising and mentoring,” says Dr. McGill. “His insights and ideas for creating a diverse and engaging experience for students at all levels in the department has already made the chemistry community stronger. His approachability, sense of humor, creativity, and unwavering commitment to the holistic undergraduate experience is inspiring.”
In addition to being accessible and relatable, Dr. Brathwaite is also fully invested in each of his students and attempts to instill them each with a sense of confidence, an attribute that many students find invaluable in reaching their educational and professional goals. “My most special moments as a teacher are centered around the success of my students,” says Dr. Brathwaite. “I like having the ability to positively affect the lives of the next generation of scientists and leaders.”
One teaching moment that stands out to Dr. Brathwaite as being particularly special was witnessing the graduation of his first research student at UVI, Jean Devera. “Jean was a freshman student in my first general chemistry class at UVI. Within the first few weeks of class, I realized he was a special student and asked him to do research with me,” says Dr. Brathwaite. “Jean graduated summa cum laude and is currently enrolled at Boston University School of Medicine.” Dr. Brathwaite aims to inspire and empower students, and moments of success like Jean’s motivate him and serve as a reminder of the impact he can have.
Just as he continues to be an avid soccer enthusiast even after his time on the field has become more infrequent, he remains similarly enthusiastic about seeing his students go on to reach their fullest potential even beyond his mentorship. He takes pride in his role in helping students become the scientists, professionals, and people they are meant to be. “I am looking forward to sharing in the successes of my students at Emory,” he says.
The Emory Report features a story on chemistry’s new undergraduate curriculum, Chemistry Unbound.
For the science dedicated to studying how properties interact and change, chemistry has been static for decades in how it is taught.
That changes this fall, as Emory College of Arts & Sciences positions itself as a leader in teaching undergraduates the “central science” that links biology, physics and more with a revamp of its entire undergraduate chemistry curriculum.
While some colleges have changed individual classes, Emory is the first major research university to completely overhaul how it teaches chemistry, from introductory courses to capstone senior seminars.
Leah Williams came to Emory last summer at the same time that students, staff, and faculty were moving into the new Atwood Addition. Her arrival in the midst of that process seems fitting—as an HHMI Curriculum Development Postdoc, Leah is a part of the team working to re-envision the undergraduate chemistry curriculum at Emory.
The curriculum itself is designed, in part, to suit the unique teaching opportunities presented by the new addition. “Everything that we’re working on has been designed with the ATOMIC (Advancing the Teaching Of Matter through Innovation and Collaboration) room in mind,” says Leah. “A lot of the materials we’re creating are meant to be done in groups, they’re meant to be interactive. Taking advantage of that space, taking advantage of the round tables, the Learning Catalytics system (since we have screens everywhere), the dry erase boards and tables so they can share all their information.”
Before coming to Emory, Leah received her PhD in chemical education from Michigan State University. Her research focused on evidence-based methods for teaching students about the relationship between structure and properties. “It’s one of the bigger ideas of chemistry that the structure of a compound, of a substance determines the properties that you experience on the macroscopic level. It’s hard [for students] because it’s a very big jump from structure to properties and there is a lot you need to know in-between. “
At MSU, she assisted her advisor, Dr. Melanie M. Cooper, with the implementation of a revised general chemistry course called CLUE: Chemistry, Life, the Universe, and Everything. The changes were modeled on revisions made to general chemistry coursework at Clemson University. Leah actually began her PhD at Clemson, moving to MSU with her advisor when the opportunity arose to bring the curriculum revisions undertaken at Clemson to a new school.
Her experiences at MSU and Clemson inform Leah’s work at Emory. “Leah brings a wealth of expertise to our reform efforts,” says Tracy McGill. “Her experience with the NSF-sponsored CLUE curriculum, assessment, and design of learning activities has been invaluable to the Emory Chemistry department. She just finished her first year in the ATOMIC room and her insights about student learning have informed the changes we have already made in planning for the fall of 2016. It is a great pleasure to work with a colleague with such dedication and enthusiasm to our department and especially our students.”
Leah notes that the curriculum development underway at Emory has a key difference from her previous experiences. “It was just gen chem,” she explains, speaking of Clemson and MSU. “Here, we’re working on the whole curriculum. There are very few schools that have attempted this.”
That process presents unique challenges. For one thing, there aren’t many examples to draw on. For departments hoping to complete evidence-based curriculum overhauls in the future, Emory’s story will be part of the evidence—what works and what doesn’t.
The curriculum redesign started with a focus on big ideas—the themes tying together different courses throughout a student’s career. The approach allowed everyone to think big, but it was hard to zoom in on the details of individual courses. “Now,” says Leah, “we’ve flipped our approach and we’re working the other way.” The team is focusing on individual lessons and learning approaches, building the curriculum piece by piece. “Our goal is to give people a more concrete idea of what the courses are actually about. I think before it was very abstract and it’s hard to get people on board when they can’t envision themselves teaching that class because they’re not sure what’s in that class. Now, we’re working on more detail, but that takes time.”
Although the process is ongoing, undergraduate chemistry students are already seeing the influence of the curriculum redesign in the classroom as members of the faculty test activities from the under-development curriculum in the classroom. Leah worked with instructor Michael Reddish to test a version of the advanced physical chemistry lab designed to help students produce publishable research results. This Fall, the curriculum team will pilot an activity on potential energy and attractive forces that will have students in the ATOMIC room up on their feet: “The students struggle a lot understanding how potential energy is related to the attractive and repulsive forces between charged particles. So, we developed an activity where they’re going to run around and they’re going to have charges…this person is going to be a plus charge and this person will be a minus and we’re going to talk about what happens when they come together or they are further apart.”
The curriculum redesign centers on this kind of active engagement. Leah says that college students are “at the point where they can understand more complex ideas, deeper chemistry concepts, and they’re at that transition where they’re starting to take more responsibility for their own education and willing to put in the work to learn the hard stuff.” When she moves on from Emory, Leah hopes to continue teaching at the college level. “I like that transition, setting them off for harder chemistry studies as they go on.”
A group of Emory University and Oxford College chemistry faculty and postdoctoral fellows attended the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education from July 31 toAugust 4 at the University of Northern Colorado. Brenda Harmon and Nichole Powell chaired a symposium, Karl Hagen and Tracy McGill presented oral papers, and Doug Mulford gave a poster presentation, establishing Emory as a key member of the chemical educational community. This was a great opportunity to learn about the latest innovations and implementations of chemistry curriculum, pedagogical methods, technology in the classroom, and undergraduate laboratory design. Additionally, it was a unique time for Emory and Oxford faculty to learn more about their respective departments and to engage in conversations about how best to support our students in both colleges.
Chemistry’s popular “Summer in Siena” study abroad kicked off last week. Above, the students are pictured on their first full day in Italy, posing in front of the Coliseum. Twelve students and four faculty will be a part of this year’s program.
The department collaborates with the Chemistry Department at the University of Siena in offering this unique experience that places chemistry in context with Italian culture and history. The program includes trips to Florence and Rome with visits to a vineyard and glass factory. Students will also attend the world famous Palio horse race in Siena. Previous trips have also included visits to the Novartis Research and Development facility in Siena.
As we near the end of the semester, our faculty take the opportunity to show students live demonstrations of some of the chemical reactions they’ve been learning about in their classes. Doug Mulford (rainbow lab coat) and Tracy McGill (white lab coat) both conducted demos in the Science Commons Courtyard.
The Emory Wheel profiles the new Atwood Addition with a focus on the ATOMIC classroom in the story, “Atwood: The Classrooms of the Future.” Hear from David Lynn, Tracy McGill and Doug Mulford and see a few new photos of the space. [Full Article]