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David McCamant wins first College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship

April 18, 2018
professor and student in chemistry labAssociate Professor of Chemistry David McCamant with graduate student Joohyun Lee in his lab in Hutchison Hall. McCamant is the inaugural recipient of the College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship, with salutes Arts, Sciences & Engineering tenured faculty members who teach large, introductory classes as well as advanced seminars and independent study projects, and who mentor research experiences. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

It will come as no surprise to his students that David McCamant, associate professor of chemistry, is the inaugural recipient of the College Award for Undergraduate Teaching and Research Mentorship.

When the word went out that he had been nominated, there was no shortage of students eager to lend their support.

“Dave was always willing and happy to set aside time to explain a topic, whether for the first time or the fifth, coming up with new and inventive ways to bridge the knowledge gap each time,” wrote Jessica Freeze ’17, a graduate student at Yale.

“I have been a TA for a variety of laboratory courses, but I have never met a professor who put in as much time or effort as Professor McCamant,” wrote Kevin McClelland ’15, a PhD student at Northwestern.

“Prof. McCamant didn’t see me as just a student in his CHM 231 class or an undergrad making mistakes in his research lab. He saw me as a young scientist with potential. Quite frankly, I don’t think I would have graduated with distinction or pursued graduate school without having Professor McCamant as a mentor,” wrote Amanda Carr ’16, a PhD student at Stony Brook.

“He is my role-model for how to be a successful professor,” wrote Randy Mehleacher ’10, a postdoc at Stanford University.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The award is funded by chemistry alumnus Frederick Lewis ’68 (PhD) and his wife Susan Rice Lewis. It salutes Arts, Sciences & Engineering tenured faculty members who teach large, introductory classes as well as advanced seminars and independent study projects, and who mentor research experiences, especially those that involve laboratory training in the sciences and engineering. (Read more here.)

McCamant says his goal is pass along to students the same excitement he felt as a chemistry undergraduate at Wesleyan University.  Thanks to professors including  Stewart Novick and Pete Pringle, “every chemistry course I took in college just kept getting better and better,” McCamant says.  “I was getting a deeper and deeper understanding within the specialty; more and more things started to make sense at a deeper level. And that’s really fun.”

McCamant, who joined the faulty 12 years ago, says he:

  • Never assumes students will find his material as “inherently interesting” as McCamant thinks it is. “I try to think about what is it that I think is so interesting about the material, and what are its implications, and make sure I convey that. Because that’s not always obvious to a student.”
  • Allows ample time in each class for question and answer discussion. “A 75-minute class is too long for anybody to pay attention. I know I can’t. You really need to break it up. You need different rhythms in the classroom. Question and discussion is really important for that and for identifying misconceptions and talking about them.”

McCamant teaches both introductory and advanced classes. The latter includes CHM 231, Chemical Instrumentation, “one of the pillars of laboratory instruction for our chemistry majors,” says department chair Todd Krauss.

Students who are TAs for the course marvel at the amount of time McCamant spends each year making sure the course is up to date. “As I flipped through the lab manual that Professor McCamant handed out during the first TA meeting, I was amazed to see that the manual, a hundred pages thick, had been revised from last year to clarify confusions that students had,” wrote McClelland.

McCamant has also mentored 21 undergraduate researchers in his lab, resulting in 12 different senior theses and four peer-reviewed publications with undergraduate authors.

Carr completed a research experience for undergraduates (REU) with McCamant one summer, then continued working with him on her senior thesis. “Although the research was challenging and frustrating, as all research is, Professor McCamant was encouraging and supportive,” she says. “During our weekly meetings, he was eager to dig in and help me understand why my experiment didn’t work or why a calculation was off. It was during this process that I fell in love with research.”

Students from his lab “have had excellent success in graduate school and in the workplace,” Krauss notes.

“It is quite clear that Dave has thought deeply about how to improve the learning of his students from the large service classes to the smaller classes for chemistry majors to the students conducting research in his laboratory,” Krauss adds. “As a result, his students have benefitted enormously not just while at Rochester, but in their future careers.”

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Category: University News