White House Honors Chemist For Mentoring | Chemical & Engineering News
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Issue Date: November 27, 2007

White House Honors Chemist For Mentoring

Louisiana State University's Saundra McGuire has made mentoring the mission of her 35-year career
Department: Government & Policy
Credit: Rodney Choice/Choice Photography
Credit: Rodney Choice/Choice Photography

At a White House ceremony earlier this month, Saundra Y. McGuire, associate dean for University College at Louisiana State University, director of LSU's Center for Academic Success, and an adjunct chemistry professor, was honored for earning a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics & Engineering Mentoring. McGuire was the sole chemist among 10 individuals who won the awards. The Ecological Society of America also earned one of the awards.

"The White House visit was an amazing experience," McGuire says. "President Bush gave us a tour of the Oval Office and told us that he really appreciates the work that we do." The awardees later received their prizes at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The awards include $10,000 grants to be applied to mentoring activities.

The National Science Foundation, which administers the awards program, notes that the awards "recognize the critical importance of mentors in the academic and personal development of students and colleagues who are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics."

McGuire herself benefited from an early mentoring experience when she was struggling during a chemistry class at Southern University, in Baton Rouge, La., in 1966. A fellow student helped her study, and McGuire ended up acing the course.

In graduate school at Cornell University in 1970, McGuire became a teaching assistant for an introductory chemistry course. She says she noticed that "a lot of minority students in the class, many of whom were from inner-city high schools, were not doing very well. But it wasn't because they weren't bright students. It was just that their preparation had not been sufficient." The problem, she concluded, was that "they were not focused on the concepts; they were more into memorizing the information." In response, she launched a weekly training session to teach the students the "whys, hows, and what ifs of chemistry, and not just the whats."

Many of the students McGuire worked with have become Ph.D. scientists and physicians, she says. And mentoring has continued to be an important part of her life.

McGuire says her colleagues at LSU's Center for Academic Success have introduced her to cognitive science principles, which she uses to help students understand the learning process so they can improve their learning techniques. The goal is to enable a student not only to learn, for example, that atomic size decreases from left to right across the periodic table, but to understand why. One strategy McGuire says students can use is to practice teaching the information they're trying to learn to, say, a fellow student if one is willing or even to an audience of stuffed animals.

McGuire earned a bachelor of science in chemistry in 1970 from Southern University; a master of arts in teaching in chemistry from Cornell the following year; and a Ph.D. in chemical education in 1983 from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a former chair of the American Chemical Society's Committee on Minority Affairs.

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