Issue Date: November 15, 2010
Honoring Community College Chemistry Teaching
The first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges was recently held to highlight the role of community colleges in developing the U.S.’s workforce and advancing the country’s educational goals. Community colleges are currently the largest part of the nation’s higher education system, with an enrollment of more than 8 million students. Enrollment is growing rapidly.
What does this mean for chemistry? According to data from the National Science Foundation (nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf04315), 44% of students receiving a science or engineering bachelor’s or master’s degree at the beginning of this decade attended a community college at some point during their education. The National Center for Education Statistics has estimated that, in 2008, students at two-year colleges accounted for 43% of all undergraduates.
Community colleges provide entry to the study of chemistry for many students who, for financial or other reasons, are not able to attend a four-year university directly from high school. They also offer flexibility in approaches to education and in programs designed in partnership with local industries to provide education and training tailored to the workforce needs of the area.
Many points of contact between ACS and community college chemistry exist, so there are many opportunities for ACS to support chemistry education at the community college level. I would like to focus on one small but important aspect: the recognition and appreciation of excellence in teaching and scholarship among chemistry faculty at community colleges.
ACS honors chemistry teaching at several levels with society-sponsored national awards, including the James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching, which is awarded annually at the national level; the George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education; and the ACS Award for Achievement in Research for the Teaching & Learning of Chemistry. Local section and regional awards also recognize excellence in teaching, mostly at the high school and four-year college levels.
Some of these awards are open to community college faculty, but ACS lacks awards specifically designated to recognize the contributions of community college chemistry teachers to science education. This is particularly troubling given that chemistry faculty members at two-year colleges make up roughly 19% of the higher education chemistry workforce (J. Chem. Ed. 2010, 87, 572).
The idea for a designated award was discussed at an ACS Western Regional Meeting by Harry Ungar of the Santa Clara Valley Section in a conversation with ACS Immediate Past-President Thomas H. Lane and me. Following that discussion, the Santa Clara Valley Section agreed to establish an award, which was presented for the first time in November 2009. The California Section has also established an award to honor community college chemistry faculty; it was presented for the first time last month. It would be wonderful to have this type of award presented in every local section and, even better, to have the award grow to the regional and national levels.
If your section already has an award to honor community college chemistry teaching, please let me know; if not, please consider instituting one. Dr. Ungar (firstname.lastname@example.org) or I (email@example.com) will be happy to talk with you, discuss more details, and share ideas.
Some relevant achievements to consider for potential awardees are the following (developed by Dr. Ungar):
■ Excellent teaching in the lab and classroom
■ Mentoring and encouragement of students toward academic success
■ Collaborations with local high schools and four-year colleges and universities
■ Educational innovation, evaluation, and dissemination
■ Published articles and books related to chemistry education
■ Exceptional contributions to the college’s chemistry department
■ Participation in grant-funded projects promoting innovative teaching methods and undergraduate research
■ Supervision of undergraduate research
■ Public outreach
■ Contributions to the local community, for example, through the K–12 system
Community colleges play a vital role in educating our citizens. The people who dedicate themselves as educators in our community colleges deserve appreciation. Recognition programs also benefit the chemistry enterprise as a whole. To quote Voltaire: “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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