My deep passion for both chemistry and teaching sparked in elementary school, and has since translated into a vibrant, exciting, motivating and empowering way of helping people learn, think and solve problems. I deeply care about the students, I care about the skills they develop and I want them to excel themselves. The world needs creative, compassionate and scientifically well-versed people and through teaching I feel like I can contribute the most.
The education, mentoring and support I provide has consistently been rated outstanding by students and co-workers, and I actively improve on it by developing new approaches based on feedback, reflection and the latest literature. I strongly think the career and personal development opportunities higher education provides people with must be equitably available regardless of financial or social background, age, ethnicity, beliefs, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, or any other differences. This entails moving toward truly understanding how people experience our research laboratories and classrooms. By building equity and inclusion directly into our education, we can empower students from a wide range of geographical, sosioeconomic, academic and other backgrounds, build strong communities and as a result build a better world for all of us.
Toward this end, I see the guiding, teaching and mentoring I provide more as a resource for the students to develop their theoretical, practical, metacognitive and social skills in a collaborative environment rather than as means of delivering information. Unquestionably, factual knowledge is needed in solving problems, however I do not emphasize or focus on recall of facts. Instead, I believe learning is equivalent with doing. When a pianist is asked “when did you learn to play the piano?” the question is meaningless. Similarly, both theoretical and experimental expertise in chemistry are accumulated slowly and through trial-and-error. This is often frustrating and students have to be guided to recognize their development. Because of this, I believe true great teaching spends much more time considering what a student does rather than on what a teacher does.
Therefore, I focus on how teaching activities get the students to work at the forefront of their cognitive skill. At this limit, with guidance and support from peers and mentors their skills can develop further. When asked a question, I reply with a question. The students can then both apply and reconsider their knowledge and associations with previous experiences. This way the students can be led to the brink of their cognitive skill for them to take the necessary step into new knowledge. I believe such “Oh! Now I get it”-experiences are in the epicenter of high-quality learning: they enhance deep learning, self-confidence, collaboration and courage to take on new and even harder problems. These experiences are best fostered in a laboratory environment with real equipment, real chemicals and real research problems. It is vitally important that these environments allow interactions between peers from different ethnic, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds as it is the most natural way toward developing more positive academic and social self-concepts. This, in turn, prepares our students and us to live and work in a diverse world. I am also interested in providing university level students with a comprehensive view on chemistry. Chemistry concepts should not be strongly divided into separate categories such as physical, inorganic, organic or analytical, but rather they should be unified to form a coherent body of information. The same underlying principles, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, govern all of chemistry.
When our classrooms (be it in-person or online) are built in a way which requires students to think for themselves, creativity comes into play. Creativity, again, is something vitally important for scientists and higher level problem solving. To promote such lateral thinking, I have experimented with open-ended STEM problems in higher education as well as in elementary- and high schools with excellent results. In such open- ended problems acquiring, applying and developing knowledge go hand in hand. Furthermore, this gives a voice for student’s different personalities, backgrounds and experiences, allowing them to truly engage and connect with both the material and each other through their interests and experiences. Students soon learn that ideas are open for discussion and reflection: “why is one solution more likely to be correct than another?” or “are these just two different ways of looking at the same thing?”. Along these lines, I always keep as far away as possible from an authoritarian setting when teaching or mentoring. Having an open, equal and friendly atmosphere without judgement is a must as we practice modern inclusive pedagogy. In such environments each person can be approached and helped according to their learning needs, new knowledge can be discovered through collaboration and even difficult and sensitive subjects approached and discussed.