I began teaching at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College thinking that I would only be here a year. But when the opportunity arose to make the temporary position permanent, it wasn’t hard to make a decision. R-MWC is a completely different world than I was accustomed to from my educational background at large state universities, and I really liked the personal feel to the college. The red brick campus began to feel like home almost immediately.
I knew early on that I wanted to go into teaching. As an undergraduate at Florida State University, I tutored chemistry students and worked as a teaching assistant. The challenge of finding ways to make the complex understandable and the satisfaction of seeing someone finally “get it” were and continue to be my motivation. My teaching philosophy is focused on understanding the concepts which underlie chemical phenomena. Of course, most chemistry courses have a large quantitative component, but for me it is just as important for students to explain why something happens as it is to calculate the result. In my classes, students will spend much of their time analyzing diagrams, graphs and chemical demos and not just performing calculations.
Of the courses I teach (General, Analytical, Environmental, and Inorganic Chemistry), the Environmental course is my favorite because it brings together all of the material learned in introductory courses and places it in the context of important national global issues. Smog, ozone depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, alternative fuels, and ground water contamination are all issues of tremendous current importance, and are also all issues that cannot be understood without understanding the chemistry of the species and processes involved. Although many of these issues represent great concerns, they also provide great opportunities.
As the United States contemplates its dependence on foreign oil, there has been an explosive increase in research related to industrial production of alternative fuels. Well trained chemists will be essential in developing these technologies. Chemists will also be at the forefront in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cleaning up polluted rivers and streams, and in the development of greener alternatives to current industrial practices. Truly, this is a time in which chemists can expect many new challenges and many exciting opportunities.
For the last several years, my research with students has focused on remediation of lead-contaminated soil. Lynchburg, with its many stately and historic homes, has many areas in which lead from paint on older houses has contaminated the surrounding soil. This lead contamination is a serious health hazard, particularly for children. My students have conducted research on the migration of lead in soil and on novel strategies for remediation of lead in contaminated sites. Most notably, my students have investigated phytoremediation, which is the use of plants to remove lead from the soil. This is a new technology, but is one that is rapidly gaining recognition as a cost effective and environmentally friendly remediation strategy.
When not in the classroom or lab, you can find me tending the garden, cooking, or cheering for the ‘Noles with my wife Sally and son Jack.