Emory University was recently named as a recipient of a grant from The Association of American Universities for the improvement of undergraduate education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The grant is part of the AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative, a project launched in 2011 to encourage STEM departments to maximize student engagement through effective teaching strategies. The AAU explains:
“These strategies include creating learning communities for STEM faculty members involved in reform efforts, establishing programs to train graduate students and undergraduate teaching assistants or peer advisors in active learning practices, renovating classrooms into collaborative learning spaces, and creating inclusive and welcoming learning environments for all students.”
The mission of this initiative aligns perfectly with Chemistry Unbound, our undergraduate curriculum, that has seen great success since its start in Fall 2017.
Emory Magazine recently ran a feature highlighting some of the innovative curriculum that makes Emory a national leader in liberal arts and science education. The feature mentioned Chemistry Unbound, the new undergraduate chemistry program, which is designed to allow a more cohesive understanding of chemistry through its interdisciplinary courses. From the article:
“The idea is that you’re not just learning the facts, but also learning the chemistry behind how the world works,” says Doug Mulford, a senior chemistry lecturer and director of undergraduate studies for Emory’s chemistry department. “You’re also seeing how to construct a scientific claim and use evidence and reason to explain your argument. That level of critical thinking transcends chemistry.”
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 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]