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Thomas J. Wenzel

Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, Bates College, USA

Qualities of a successful mentor or educator? Utilizing active learning – including exercises that engage students in the learning process. In the classroom, students need to work in teams and be challenged to think, reason, present arguments, and critically examine those of others. In the laboratory, student teams need open-ended questions to develop hypotheses, read and interpret the literature, design experiments, interpret data, troubleshoot, and draw conclusions.

Attracting talent… Practicing analytical scientists often work on interesting and complex problems, usually as part of a team. However, the traditional educational approach at an undergraduate level emphasizes individualism – rarely giving students the opportunity to work on meaningful problems they can relate to. Designing courses where students work in teams on interesting problems provides a more attractive representation of analytical science.   

Biggest challenge facing the field? From an educational perspective, it is incredibly challenging to find the time and resources to work with faculty members to create an active learning environment across all subjects. The effectiveness of active learning is critically dependent on the qualities of the instructor, but unfortunately, there are many instructors that have very little experience in active learning. Beginners often need time and feedback from skilled practitioners to refine their effectiveness.

A mentor or educator who inspired you? One often thinks of a mentor as someone in a role above you. However, while many people within this bracket have inspired me over the years, a person that stands out is a peer. Cindy Larive worked closely with me for over two decades before taking her current role as Chancellor at the University of California Santa Cruz. I admire Cindy’s leadership skills, vision, work ethic, warmth, and sense of humor. Her ability to state her views in an encouraging and respectful way often enhances the productivity of those around her. Working with Cindy was always a rewarding and inspirational experience.

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