University of Rochester

Chemistry Professor Wins National Teaching Award

March 24, 1999

A University of Rochester professor has been recognized nationally for making science accessible to students through innovative teaching methods. Jack A. Kampmeier, professor of chemistry, is one of the 1999 recipients of the Chemical Manufacturers Association's "Responsible Care" National Catalyst Award for Excellence in Teaching. The CMA will present Kampmeier with a medal and gift of $5,000 on March 26 at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Boston.

"This is a high-profile award and a real honor," says James Farrar, chair of the Department of Chemistry. "Jack's work has had an impact on the national level."

Kampmeier has taught organic chemistry at the University since 1960, and he knows the challenges associated with the subject. "Students have always had far more trouble with organic chemistry than they should. The gas station model, where students pull in, a professor or grad student opens up their heads and pours knowledge in, and they drive off, filled up, just doesn't work," he says.

Kampmeier brought the workshop concept to the University as a participant in an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to improve the teaching of introductory chemistry. The idea of chemistry workshops was originally developed by David Gosser, chemistry professor at City College in New York, to restructure the traditional program of lectures and recitations. The concept intrigued Kampmeier, who took the lead in adapting workshops to organic chemistry, a course typically taken by sophomores. Since then workshops have caught on throughout the chemistry department and at other colleges and universities.

The success of the student-led study sessions astounds Kampmeier. "I've seen nothing like it before. In workshops, students build their own understanding of the material by debating and discussing ideas and chemistry problems with their peers—a method in tune with theories of how students learn," he says.

The workshops are structured study sessions in which small groups of students tackle complex chemistry problems together. In brainstorming for solutions, they engage each other, as well as the material. Peer leaders who are themselves veterans of organic chemistry take a training class and then lead the workshops, creating a comfortable, relaxed environment where some students ask and answer questions more freely than in a traditional classroom.

"Students like the workshops because they're active participants and because the structure provides them with a support group. Faculty like it because it gives students a mechanism for coping with the challenges of a class. Most importantly, everyone likes workshops because they help students learn. It reduces antagonism and frustration. The atmosphere in the course changes and so does the interaction between faculty and students," Kampmeier says.

College students aren't the only ones who learn from Kampmeier. He has developed a program that brings high school science teachers from around the country to the University, where they work directly with researchers in laboratories. This allows the visitors to brush up on laboratory techniques and gives them a glimpse of the very latest knowledge in the field, which they then share with their own students.

The University recognized Kampmeier's contributions to teaching in 1974 with the Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Kampmeier was a National Science Foundation science faculty fellow at the University of California at Berkeley in 1971-72, a Fulbright-Hays senior research scholar at the University of Freiburg in 1979-80, and a NATO senior scientist in 1979-80. He served as chair of the Department of Chemistry from 1975 to 1979, and dean of the College of Arts and Science from 1988 to 1991. Kampmeier is the second faculty member to win a Catalyst Award. Former chemistry professor Edwin Wiig received the award in 1963.