(April 15, 2020) The Department of Chemistry was honored as a 2019 University Exemplary Department by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost in partnership with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. It is the department’s fifth award, after having received the honor in 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2009. Since its establishment in 1994, each year’s award has featured a different theme, emphasizing the multi-faceted nature of excellence in academia. The theme for 2019 was “inclusive excellence in teaching and learning.”

The department has made significant strides in ensuring inclusivity for all its students. Specifically mentioned in the nomination packet was the department’s participation in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence Program and its resulting programming: FYE 2. First Year Experience (FYE) is a course taken by all first-year chemistry majors and is designed to foster community among the cohort. Students from underrepresented groups, including transfer students and first-generation students, were invited to take a second semester of FYE to maintain the community built from the first semester. After a successful first run in Spring 2019, the course was continued in Spring 2020. 

Other initiatives to improve teaching and learning include the Inclusive Pedagogy Lunch Series which was created to promote continued education about new approaches to inclusive teaching. Methods discussed include flipped-classroom style, where students learn the content before the lecture and work on application problems during the lecture, and inquiry-based learning, which involves asking students more conceptual questions to stimulate their curiosity and interest in the subject matter. The latter pedagogical practice was implemented in one section of general chemistry and was a resounding success; students in the inquiry-based course felt they understood the content better, enjoyed learning the material, and noticed they were able to solve problems more efficiently.

In addition to transitioning traditional lecture sections into active-learning, the HHMI team also created a library of videos focusing on specific concepts that most frequently pose a problem for students. The video library, which currently contains nine videos, serves as a supplement to the course and allows students to work through the problems at their own pace, as many times as they want, anytime, anywhere. 

The department was one of four programs to receive the award. Other recipients included The Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT); the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures; and the Department of Sociology, all in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. All four departments were honored with a reception hosted by the Provost’s Office on February 20, 2020.

Read more: https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2020/02/uedpa-awards-2019.html