Love of learning makes chemistry professor at home in the classroom
A. Sue Weisler
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Christina Goudreau jokes that she has never left school.
“I’ve never had a job in the real world,” says Goudreau, associate professor of chemistry in the College of Science. “I went to college and then I went to graduate school and then I came here. I always say maybe I’ll get a real job when I retire.”
Retirement is a ways off for Goudreau, who joined RIT in 2003 as a lecturer, months before finishing her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Rochester. The following year, she accepted a tenure track position and was granted tenure in 2009. This year, Goudreau has received an Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching for her talent in the classroom and laboratory.
Goudreau, a native of Manchester, N.H., caught the teaching bug early as an undergraduate at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. She enrolled in an organic chemistry class to satisfy her pre-medical school requirements, and didn’t expect to like it.
“I took organic chemistry and realized I was enjoying it,” she says. “I was surprised because all I had heard was how it was a weed-out class. But the teacher I had was goofy and energetic and fun.”
Making a tough topic enjoyable to students resonated with Goudreau. She values her student interactions, particularly the moments when concepts “click” for her students.
“Not every student is going to love organic chemistry,” she says. “If I can get them to appreciate it; I’m fine with it. When someone makes a connection, it’s exciting. I know I didn’t do it for them, but I was on the journey with them.”
Goudreau is exploring novel ways for her students to make those connections in the organic chemistry lab. She is diving into the chemistry education field and is redesigning lab exercises that blend studio (lecture/lab combined) and inquiry-based learning (asking questions to build knowledge).
She is collaborating with RIT colleagues Jeremy Cody, professor of chemistry; Tom Kim, professor of biochemistry; and Scott Franklin, professor of physics, and professors at Monroe Community College to revamp organic chemistry labs. Goudreau wrote a module beta tested at MCC requiring students to think about their experiments differently through group and individual activities. The series of exercises teaches and reinforces troubleshooting skills and reminds students to talk to one another while in the lab.
“A lot of times students walk away from the lab thinking they did great or did terribly because they have no gauge of their success relative to their lab mates,” Goudreau says. “In our new lab module, students are talking to each other and it does a lot for their confidence and perspective. They’re not chalking things up to human error anymore; they’re thinking more deeply about the problems. Each work sheet/lab exercise builds off the previous one leading students into the spiraling of knowledge that gets more and more complex. We do it step by step.”
The results from the first module, published in the Journal of Chemical Education in 2012, resonated with other educators, who sent positive emails and requests for additional modules.
This summer, Goudreau will begin a sabbatical to write 12 more modules for her organic chemistry lab. She will spend her time working on the project on campus and in Penfield, where she lives with her husband, two children and two stepchildren.