“Baking bread, building a space shuttle or making an iPod case all involve chemistry. I try to show students that there are a variety of things you can do in chemistry that are both important and interesting.”
Amanda Bowman wasn’t always sure about chemistry. She started out testing the waters as an undergraduate with a general chemistry course. “I realized chemistry was really fun, so I just kept taking classes,” Bowman says.
After completing her Ph.D., Bowman did postdoctoral research until she decided something was missing. Bowman found that missing piece in the classroom.
She now shares her extensive research experience with her students. In fact, her student-focused teaching style is a key reason she came to Transylvania’s intimate campus.
“In a small classroom, it’s easier to pick out the students who are really interested and help encourage their pursuit of science,” she says. “Here I can actually ask students what they are interested in doing in class and adapt the curriculum to their interests.”
Bowman’s teaching philosophy begins with creating a safe environment for students to explore science interactively.
“I try to make students comfortable with asking questions. Even if a student isn’t vocal throughout the entire class, that’s okay,” Bowman says. “I want all of my students, even the less talkative ones, to be able to ask questions.”
Bowman strives to get students involved by incorporating group activities and worksheets. “That way, I can see how students are grasping the material. If there’s confusion, it’s a lot easier to address it immediately rather than waiting for exams.”
At the same time, she understands the importance of putting chemistry in context—whether that means exploring the various vocational fields it applies to, sharing recent discoveries, or researching in the lab. For example, when her class studies thermodynamics, they look at fireworks and how they work.
As an undergraduate, Bowman had the opportunity to do extensive research, motivating her to offer the same opportunity to her own students. “Once I got to graduate school, I really felt I had an advantage in the lab.”
In Bowman’s world view, knowledge of chemistry helps create informed citizens. “Even if students don’t become scientists, they leave with a basic knowledge of the sciences, and they can understand or appreciate a discovery or a debate and actually have an informed opinion about it,” Bowman says.
Nonetheless, her most treasured moments in the classroom are when students tell her they’ve come to love chemistry. “That makes me really happy.”