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Like many college students, Loretta L. Jones began her academic career without a clear path. “But I knew it would involve chemistry,” she recalls.
Jones, 68, earned a B.S. in chemistry from Loyola University, Chicago, in 1964. She then worked at Argonne National Laboratory while earning an M.S. in chemistry at the University of Chicago. After a stint in industry, she was ready for a change of pace. Teaching intrigued her, but no jobs were available. A new doctoral program in the chemistry department at the University of Illinois, Chicago, caught her attention, though. The innovative program—through which she earned two doctorates in 1979—involved chemical education research.
When she enrolled in the program in 1974, the field was relatively new and small. “Most science education research was done in colleges of education, where few of the faculty members had a chemistry background, so research into the learning of chemistry was being overlooked,” she says.
Jones was familiar with education pioneer Maria Montessori’s ideas about learning and was “fascinated by how she changed education by applying a simple principle: Watch the children and learn from what they need.”
“If they are not engaged,” Jones says about students, “they are not really learning.” Her goal has always been to create and investigate interactive learning materials that would engross learners.
Collaboration is a passion of Jones’s. “By its nature, research in chemical education is interdisciplinary,” she says. She has worked with cognitive psychologists, biochemists, and chemists to fine-tune ways of communicating chemistry in engaging ways. Since 1981, she has developed and evaluated multimedia methods to more effectively teach chemistry. She was also one of the first to promote the acceptance of chemical education research as a legitimate field of inquiry within chemistry departments. Jones has been a faculty member in chemical education research at the University of Northern Colorado since 1992.
As 2001 chair of the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Visualization in Science & Education, a biennial event that encourages multidisciplinary collaborations among educators, Jones could further enable science educators to share their creative ideas. “With the complexities that teaching with technology brings, these collaborations are increasingly important,” Jones says.
One of her greatest accomplishments came from her involvement with GRC. She worked with the National Science Foundation to make $5,000 minigrants available to conference participants to support collaborative visualization research in science education. “The response was amazing. These projects, based on very limited funding, went far beyond expectations,” Jones says.
As for Jones’s teaching methods, she “invited novel perspectives intended to challenge discussion and promote creativity,” recounts Resa Kelly, an associate professor of chemistry and science education at San José State University. Kelly is a former doctoral student of Jones’s.
Jones has mentored many students who have become teachers. So indirectly, Jones is responsible for the chemical education of thousands of students. “Jones’s most significant attribute, however, is her compassion,” says Jones’s former graduate student Sean Madden, now a math teacher at Greeley West High School in Greeley, Colo. “Her suggestions are always thoughtful and directed toward helping students achieve their goals.”
Jones will present the award address before the ACS Division of Chemical Education.