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James Bryant Conant Award In High School Chemistry Teaching

Sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific

by Faith Hayden
February 1, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 5

Credit: Dennis Johnson
Credit: Dennis Johnson

Jeffrey Hepburn, a high school chemistry teacher at Central Academy in Des Moines, likes to give his students a little “CPR” in the classroom; that’s chemistry, problem solving, and relevance.

“I present the chemistry material that needs to be presented,” he explains. “This is enhanced by the problem solving, which is completed by multiple types of activities. The relevance is the crucial component. Students need to see the relevance behind the material being presented and why it is important to their everyday experiences.”

Whatever he’s doing, it’s working: Hepburn estimates that 20 to 25% of his students start college in a chemistry-related field, and each year his students score well above the national average on the Advanced Placement chemistry examination.

Hepburn “is without doubt, the best science teacher and one of the best overall teachers I have had the pleasure of observing in my 32 years in the profession,” says Dennis V. Johnson, a program supervisor at Central Academy.

Hepburn, 54, has known he wanted to be a teacher since the eighth grade. “I had some phenomenal role models in high school and college, which kept reinforcing the importance of teaching,” he says.

If the praise from his students is any indication, Hepburn has followed in the footsteps of his mentors and become a phenomenal role model himself. “His students write that ‘Mr. Hepburn is a very enthusiastic teacher who cares about his students’ and ‘Mr. Hepburn sparked my interest in chemistry,’ ” says Thomas J. Greenbowe, a chemistry professor at Iowa State University.

“I continually get notes or school visits from former students thanking me for the preparation they received,” Hepburn says. “This can happen during the next year or up to 15 or 20 years later. The success stories happen any time a student feels more positive about chemistry and science than they did before class.”

Hepburn received a B.A. in chemistry from the University of Northern Iowa in 1978 and earned an M.S. in science education from the University of Iowa in 1993. In addition to ACS, he is a member of the National Science Teachers Association and the National Education Association.

He has won numerous awards, including the Siemens State Award for AP Mathematics/Science Teacher (2006), the Distinguished Service Award to Iowa Science Teachers from Iowa Science Teachers/Iowa Academy (2003), and the Iowa Chemistry High School Teacher for Excellence in Science Teaching from the Iowa Academy of Science (1993).

Hepburn is also a semiprofessional magician. “I love presenting my applications of chemical magic around the country and demonstrating the inquiry nature of science by use of magic,” he says. He also collects wine, plays chess, and has signatures, programs, or pictures of more than 100 chemistry Nobel Laureates (C&EN, Jan. 25, page 104).

Hepburn will present the award address before the Division of Chemical Education.



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