Innovative science education at San Jacinto College earns Dr. Ann Cartwright
an American Chemical Society award
PASADENA, Texas — Like chemical changes in a laboratory, professors must also evolve to keep students engaged in science education, according to this year's American Chemical Society Excellence in Teaching award recipient and San Jacinto College science department chair, Dr. Ann Cartwright.
As a chemistry professor more than 30 years ago, Cartwright said the traditional teaching model included an instructor lecturing in front of a class while students feverishly took their notes. However, she said an "aha moment" caused her to reassess her instruction and consider how students have changed over the years. These days, Cartwright follows her own teachings, arriving to class early; displaying her outline of notes, due dates, and chemistry problems on a white board; and warming up her projector to begin class the minute her students walk in. Her motto: There is no time to waste. Her other motto: Learn science through service learning.
"Students work; they have family responsibilities and sometimes extended family responsibilities, court dates, etc.," said Cartwright. "That means that class time is an extremely valuable commodity; it may be about the only learning time available. Not one second of the class time can be wasted. When I first read something to that affect, I started planning my classroom learning environment more carefully."
Cartwright's teaching method is a fusion of traditional chemistry projects and experiments mixed with a free thinking interactive environment, inside and outside of the classroom. Her chemistry students carry a constant presence throughout the Pasadena and Houston area, volunteering at local elementary schools each semester to apply Cartwright's practical chemistry teachings to a variety of activities like judging science fairs and carrying out chemistry projects in front of a class of fourth-graders.
"In my opinion, our current students are as bright as ever, and in so many ways, they are better than ever and have some unique skill sets," said Cartwright. "They certainly try to balance more things in their lives than many of us did or had to. They also have some great characteristics of acceptance of diversity and volunteer readily to teach and help pre-college age students do hands-on science experiments."
Cartwright received her bachelor's degree in chemistry from Tarkio College in 1964 and her master's degree in science education from the University of Missouri in Kansas City in 1967. In 1972, she earned her doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the University of Kansas, where she also completed post-doctoral work and pursued a post-doctoral teaching appointment at Tulane University from 1974 to 1976. She began her career as an instructor at the Baylor College of Medicine and started teaching at San Jacinto College in 1979, where she has held the position of department chair for chemistry, geology and physics and science.
Her many awards of teaching excellence includes the Minnie Stevens Piper Professor award, numerous Who's Who awards, a National Catalyst Award for Teaching Excellence, a National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) Excellence Award, and her most recent recognition, the prestigious American Chemical Society Excellence in Teaching in a Two-Year College Award for 2011.
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 163,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals, and scientific conferences.
"Ann has been the leader in community outreach for San Jacinto College and is a shining example of what a college professor can do to encourage and mentor future chemistry students by capturing their imaginations and inspiring them, even when they are still in elementary school," said Dr. Robert Botto from the American Chemical Society. "This is the first year for the Excellence in Teaching Award for a two-year college professor. I nominated Ann because she is so outstanding, and I think the new award deserves a very special recipient."