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Associate Professor of Chemistry Lori Watson, pictured left, is co-founder of the Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists.

NSF awards $1.1M grant to advance professor's work with national network of chemists

August 09, 2017

Associate Professor of Chemistry Lori Watson and other collaborators have been selected for a five-year $1.1 million grant to develop curricula and promote best practices in the teaching of inorganic chemistry.

The National Science Foundation-funded project will expand the work of the Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists (IONiC), which Watson co-founded with chemists from other leading liberal arts colleges like Harvey Mudd, Hope and Reed.

“This grant has more of a focus on pedagogy and developing syllabi for inorganic courses using best practices and current research in the classroom,” Watson says. “Undergraduate students will benefit because they are getting a more enthusiastic and engaged experience while being exposed to the newest materials developed by experts in their field. Faculty new to teaching inorganic chemistry will benefit tremendously from joining experienced practitioners.”

This is the third time the NSF has funded IONiC’s work. Past grant cycles funded the development of classroom and laboratory learning objects, a series of faculty workshops and the launch of the Virtual Inorganic Pedagogical Electronic Resource (VIPEr), which will be updated with resources developed from the new funding.

VIPEr is a digital library and virtual community for sharing teaching materials, advice and student learning with more than 1,000 registered faculty users on six continents. Materials on the site are available as curricular material adaptable to different classroom situations, including classroom and lab activities, literature discussions, short presentations on special topics and exam questions.

Watson, a member of IONiC’s leadership council, is a national leader in the teaching of inorganic chemistry and Earlham’s associate academic dean. An expert in synthetic and computational organometallic chemistry, Watson recently represented Earlham by leading a workshop sponsored by the Global Liberal Arts Alliance, a meeting of educators from around the world designed to promote international collaborations and further the incorporation of research-based pedagogical practices in STEM education. She also participates in student-faculty research on campus, most recently researching catalytic reactions leading to cleaner energy.

“I don’t think there’s one way to teach, but I think doing science is the best way to learn science,” Watson says of her reputation for eye-catching scientific demonstrations outside of the classroom.

“I really enjoy that,” she says. “You can learn things in a book, and that’s great background knowledge, but that isn’t in and of itself being a scientist. Anytime we have students actively learning, making their hypothesis, doing their experiments, taking their data and analyzing it, and coming up with a story that is supported by the data and advances knowledge, that is really what’s important.”

This NSF-funded project is just the latest example of leadership among Earlham faculty in scientific education. Bob Rosenberg, professor of biology, and Beth Mechlin, assistant professor of psychology, and other collaborators recently secured an $85,000 grant to host a collaborative research experience in neuroscience for three consecutive summers; Professor Emeritus of Biology John Iverson received $94,044 in funding for his project, “Climate change and environmental sex determination in a geographically widespread species;” and faculty from several departments received a two-year $347,228 grant to fund upgrades in Earlham’s cyber-infrastructure backbone connections for its entire Science Complex.

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

 

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