James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 3 | p. 60 | Awards
Issue Date: January 15, 2007

James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching

Department: ACS News
Credit: Charles Siegrist
Credit: Charles Siegrist

Sponsored by the ACS General Endowment Fund

Eleanor W. Siegrist made such an impression on Alexander Scheeline during high school that he still remembers her some 40 years later. Not only does he remember his former high school chemistry teacher, but he nominated her for the James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching.

"Mrs. Siegrist was tough as nails," recalls Scheeline, who is now a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "She had high standards, and she expected people to meet them."

Siegrist, who taught chemistry between 1966 and 2005 at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, in Pennsylvania, challenged not only her students, but also herself. She regularly attended conferences, such as the Conference on Chemical Education, and immersed herself in education literature, one of her favorites being the Journal of Chemical Education. During the second half of her career, she became heavily involved in an outreach program called Science in Motion.

Through these efforts, she brought new ideas for science projects to her classroom and kept her material up-to-date. "The most outstanding thing was how hard Mrs. Siegrist worked," says Lara Larson, who took Siegrist's chemistry classes in the mid-1980s and is now an engineer at a northwestern Pennsylvania refinery. "She put a tremendous amount of effort into her lesson plans and homework assignments."

Siegrist, 62, hadn't planned on becoming a chemistry teacher. In fact, she majored in history at Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pa., and minored in chemistry education. After graduating with a B.A. in 1966, Siegrist began looking for a history-related job but instead found a position as a chemistry teacher at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School. After a couple of months, she realized she had found her calling. She stayed at Hollidaysburg for 39 years, until her retirement in 2005.

Siegrist says her students kept her motivated. "If I can do even a little bit to help them realize the potential and the ability they have and to encourage them to reach and to try, that's a goal that brings me great, great satisfaction," she says.

Another motivating factor was Science in Motion, which Siegrist credits for revitalizing the second half of her career. The program, which began as a partnership between Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pa., and local high schools and has spread throughout Pennsylvania, allowed Siegrist to share ideas with other high school teachers, bring sophisticated instruments into her labs, and through the program's workshops, learn how to use the instruments.

Donald J. Mitchell, a professor of chemistry at Juniata College and a founder of Science in Motion, says Siegrist was a driving force behind the program and probably used its resources more than anyone else.

Through the program, Siegrist was able to bring pH meters, top-loading and analytical balances, a gas chromatograph, infrared spectrometers, and high-performance liquid chromatography instruments into her classroom. Siegrist says she took great pride in giving her students a college-level experience.

Siegrist also inspired young chemistry teachers. She motivated a fellow teacher to get a master's in education, and to show her support, Siegrist joined her in pursuing the degree. In 1998, Siegrist received a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, with a minor in science education, from Pennsylvania State University.

Siegrist's low-key nature belies her intensity. "When you first talk to her, you don't realize the drive and purpose behind her because she's so quiet. But she really got things done, and she was very determined," Mitchell says.

Since retiring, Siegrist has been volunteering with the First Baptist Church of Hollidaysburg and is serving as an associate interim pastor.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Chemical Education.

Chemical & Engineering News
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