In my 10 years on the faculty at NYU, my teaching has been highly interdisciplinary and has centered around the introduction of organic and polymer chemistry in the undergraduate and graduate curricula as well as the recruitment and mentoring of graduate and undergraduate students. I have developed the off-sequence organic chemistry I course, introduced new polymer-based laboratory modules into organic chemistry I and II lab sections and developed a senior undergraduate/first semester graduate class on polymer science. Polymer chemistry has evolved as a major commercial area in the US with 500 billion pounds of plastics produced in the US annually and forty percent of all chemists working in polymer industries. Therefore, an education in polymer science is essential to a chemist. For students to have any exposure to this topic, it must be integrated into the basic chemistry curriculum. I have successfully initiated a polymer curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students by developing laboratory modules as well as lecture class modules on polymer science with an emphasis to combine modern approaches in polymer chemistry with recent advances in the field and important industrial applications.
In the off-sequence organic chemistry I class, besides polymer science, I emphasize the importance of organic chemistry in biology and the medical field. The vast majority (98%+) of all students enrolled in the class are not chemistry or biology majors but premedical students. The challenge is to excite them about science, to introduce these non-chemistry majors to the principles of organic chemistry, and to prepare them for their future career in the medical field without overwhelming them. In the lecture and recitations, I correlate each topic to examples from nature or the medical field, which allows students to relate to the materials more easily. Additionally, I want them to ‘get’ organic chemistry and not to memorize it.
My mentoring activities can be categorized into professional mentoring and increasing diversity in the sciences. I recruited 44 graduate, 24 undergraduate, and seven REU (NSF-funded research experience for undergraduate) students for my research program. Since 2010, eight undergraduate students in my group have received DURF funding and I supervised 12 independent studies and two honor theses. My undergraduate mentees have received major awards and prices including Departmental Scholar Awards, Outstanding Senior Honor Thesis, Albert S. Borgman/Phi Beta Kappa Thesis Prize for the best Honors Thesis in the Sciences, George Granger Brown Award, and the Marion Cohen Griffel Research Scholar Award. Since 2010, nine undergraduate students have been co-authors on peer-reviewed publications.
Besides graduate and undergraduate mentoring, my group and I are very active in K-12 STEM education and minority recruitment efforts by targeting minority-based STEM conferences. For example, in the past three years, we have attended the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists’ and Chemical Engineers and the Society of Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science to recruit minority students.