Day: November 15, 2019

Alumni Share Encouragement at Awards Program

Photo of Sonali Jog, Laura Barrientos, Pushpa Murthy, and Parag Jog
Left to Right: Sonali Jog, Laura Barrientos, Pushpa Murthy, and Parag Jog

Students got an unexpected treat at the department’s annual awards program this year, held on April 24 in the Memorial Union Building’s newly remodeled alumni lounge. Three PhD recipients from the department shared some of their experiences, funny stories, and words of wisdom before the student awards were presented.

Special guest of honor was Laura Barrientos, who earned her PhD under the mentorship of Professor Pushpa Murthy in 1995. During her career as a biochemist and structural biologist, she has conducted research at the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, she is owner and founder of Premier Drug Screening, LLC, and owner and president of IntelliGenetics, LLC, headquartered in Atlanta, which is the only AABB-accredited DNA-based relationship testing laboratory in Georgia and surrounding areas authorized to perform biological relationship testing for the US State Department.

After sharing stories of her time at Michigan Tech and some of the exciting stops on her career path, Barrientos offered some advice to the students:
• Set your vision
• The career path is yours and unique. Do not compare it with anyone else’s
• Always leave the doors open
• Reputation is important—guard it
• Writing skills future-proof your careers; polish this crucial skill while in graduate school
• We are in the 21st Century—remember that! Interacting with technology is no longer a choice. In addition to the skills you are learning in a science program, learn basic computer programming
• When it’s time for change, it is an opportunity to test your character and your decision-making skills. After all, what matters the most is what you ended up doing next
• Think forward, never look back

By chance, Parag Jog and Sonali Jog also visited the department that week and were able to attend the awards program, along with their son, and also briefly shared some highlights of their careers after leaving Michigan Tech. Parag and Sonali both earned their PhDs in 2005. Parag, who worked with Professor Dallas Bates, is a project management consultant with Integrated Project Management® in South San Francisco. Sonali, who worked with Professor Pushpa Murthy, is a technical support scientist with bio-techne® in Newark, California.


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Supplemental Instruction and the Chemistry Learning Center

Students studying in CLCOn a cold winter’s day in 2003, Lois Blau (whom most will remember as the dynamic director of the Chemistry Learning Center (CLC)) discovered a relatively new and innovative academic support service that would transform the landscape of STEM learning support at Michigan Tech in the months and years to come. The program? Supplemental Instruction (SI for short).

SI is a nontraditional form of tutoring that focuses on collaboration, group study, and interaction for students taking “traditionally difficult” courses. Students are provided a trained peer who has successfully negotiated the course. In 50-minute sessions, students receive course-specific learning and study strategies, note-taking and test-taking skills, and structured study time. SI was first deployed at Tech in general chemistry in fall 2004. After attending formal training in Kansas City, Lois was convinced that the program could make a positive impact on campus. The outcome surpassed her expectations. What started as a support service for one introductory course has blossomed into a sophisticated operation in five foundational first-year and second-year courses.

In fall 2018, the CLC experienced record-breaking attendance with nearly 6,000 student visits throughout the semester. The praise belongs to our amazing team of student SI leaders who worked so hard to help our students succeed. SI leaders go through a relatively involved training process before the start of the academic year and attend development sessions throughout the year. In addition, they faithfully attend every course lecture, take notes right alongside the students, and act as model peers. All this puts SI leaders in the best position to run effective sessions.

What makes SI so successful? The harmonious relationship between teaching and talking. To talk is to teach and to teach is to learn. Since talking requires prerequisite thinking on a critical level, she who talks more learns more.

Is SI working? Yes! We consistently see that students who attend SI are scoring 10 percent above their non-attending counterparts on average. For certain classes, the difference has been as high as 15 percent. One might surmise that the difference in achievement level is more of a correlation effect. It turns out, however, that the International Center for SI in Kansas City has ample data to show that this is not the case. When sorting students by any number of metrics the data show that SI is having a causation effect in the improved student outcomes.

We have room to grow. Eventually we would love to test out SI in P-Chem (typically taken in the third year). In addition to growing the program within the department, Jeremy Brown, director of the CLC, plans to extoll the program’s virtues across campus. Michigan Tech is already regarded as a top-notch university, but an active and flourishing SI program could have a propitious effect in aiding our students to learn, thrive, and create the future.

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Chemist Co-Authors United Nations Report on the Environment

Sarah Green, professor of chemistry, was a scientific reviewer on the United Nation’s (UN) Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6) report. Green was one of 250 scientists and experts from more than 70 countries who worked on the report. The March 2019 report is a comprehensive and rigorous assessment on the state of the environment completed by the UN in the last five years.

The GEO-6 report shows that a healthy environment is a prerequisite and foundation for economic prosperity, human health, and well-being. It addresses the main challenge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, that no one should be left behind, and that all should live healthy, fulfilling lives for the full benefit of all, for present and future generations. “We are not heading that way, however,” says Green. “We have many opportunities to reverse that direction and make a difference on the current trends in climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and other pressures to restore planetary and human health.”

The GEO-6 report highlights the fact that the world has the science, technology, and finance it needs to move toward a more sustainable development pathway; although, sufficient support is still missing from public, business, and political leaders who are clinging to outdated production and development models. “The science is clear. The health and prosperity of humanity is directly tied with the state of our environment,” says Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of UN Environment. “This report is
an outlook for humanity. We are at a crossroads. Do we continue on our current path, which will lead to a bleak future for humankind, or do we pivot to a more sustainable development pathway? That is the choice our political leaders must make, now.”

The projection of a future healthy planet with healthy people is based on a new way of thinking where the “grow now, clean up after” model is changed to the goal of a near-zero-waste economy by 2050. According to the Outlook, green investment of two percent of countries’ GDP would deliver long-term growth as high as presently projected but with fewer impacts from climate change, water scarcity, and loss of ecosystems. At present, the world is not on track to meet sustainability goals by 2030 or 2050. Policy interventions that address entire systems—such as energy, food, and waste—rather than individual issues, can be much more effective, according to the authors. “The report shows that policies and technologies already exist to fashion new development pathways that will avoid these risks and lead to health and prosperity for all people,” says Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins, co-chairs of the GEO-6 process. “What is currently lacking is the political will to implement policies and technologies at a sufficient speed and scale. The fourth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi in March needs to be the occasion when policymakers face up to the challenges and grasp the opportunities of a much brighter future for humanity.”

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From the Chair

Dr. John Jaszczak
Dr. John Jaszczak, Chair

A lot has happened in the Department of Chemistry over the past year and there is much to brag about! I’d like to introduce some of them, with more details included in the following pages.

A highlight for the department is the annual spring awards program held in April. It was impressive and inspiring to hear the accomplishments of our undergraduate and graduate student award winners as their names were announced, attesting to their excellence in coursework, research, and teaching. A summary of the winners is presented later in the newsletter (page 10). Our featured awards program speaker, Laura Barrientos, who earned her PhD with Pushpa Murthy, shared some of her accomplishments as a scientist and entrepreneur, along with some good advice for the students. We were also delighted  to hear from Parag Jog, who earned his PhD with Dallas Bates, and Sonali Jog, who also earned her PhD with Murthy; both are enjoying productive careers in California.

Many thanks to our generous alumni and friends whose donations have allowed us to give a variety of awards to our students including undergraduate and graduate student summer fellowships, provide support for professional development, postdoctoral appointments, and acquisition of some key instrumentation (which we’ll highlight in a future newsletter). Your generous support greatly enhances our educational mission and research capabilities.

The department continues to be heavily engaged in research, which includes both our graduate and undergraduate students. I know from visiting with current and prospective undergraduate students that opportunities to do research is a high priority. I am grateful to all of our faculty who regularly mentor students on their research projects. This has been a particularly exciting year in terms of research funding. Since January 2019, five external grants have been awarded (details on page 7). Congratulations to these faculty and their research groups for their hard work and sustained efforts!

In regard to teaching and learning, we also have much to celebrate. This past spring, Paul Charlesworth was recognized for his outstanding teaching in first-year chemistry through the University’s Dean’s Teaching Showcase. Congratulations are also due to Andrew Galerneau, who is being promoted from lecturer to senior lecturer. Over the last academic year, three faculty and four students were recognized by the Provost as scoring in the “top 10 percent” of similarly sized classes, University-wide on their student evaluations of instruction. The department continues to work hard to recruit new undergraduate and graduate students to our programs. We are hopeful that we may have over 25 new first-year undergraduate students join us in the fall—the largest class since 2014.

Last year’s newsletter announced the opening of the new University Chemical Stores Facility located at the north side of the Chemical Sciences and Engineering building. The project would not have been successful without the skillful direction of Don Wareham, who served as manager of Chem Stores, and retired in January after many years with the University. Well wishers packed the Chemistry Learning Center on January 10 for a retirement party for Don.

Looking to the future, two important topics come to mind. First, the department will be continuing its search for a new department chair this year. More information will be made available on our webpage as the search develops. Second is the exciting new opportunity for the department and the University over the next several years with planning for the H-STEM building. This has been in the works for quite some time now, and was recently approved for the next steps by the State of Michigan. The building will greatly enhance research infrastructure for health sciences-related research, and the project will also include significant remodeling of the Chemical Sciences and Engineering building, which currently houses the chemistry and chemical engineering departments. A vision document for the project is being prepared and the capital outlay plan approved by the state is available at the following link in case you’d like to have a look.

This is going to be an exciting and productive year. I hope the same will be true for you. Please send us your news, visit our website, or even better, stop by and see the department!
John Jaszczak
Interim Department Chair and Professor


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