Students in Professor Jack Kampmeier’s organic chemistry class must grapple with questions like, “When one of the stereoisomeric ethylene dicarboxylic acids is reacted with Cl2/H2O, the corresponding chlorohydrin is formed with the stereochemistry as shown below [in a diagram]. Give the correct stereochemistry for the starting ethylene dicarboxylic acids?” In recent years, a complex question such as this has become easier to answer for Kampmeier’s students thanks to their professor’s innovative teaching methods.
Kampmeier introduced the workshop concept in his organic chemistry classes as part of an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation in 1995. Since then, the workshop model has propagated. Students in many of the sciences now take part in the small peer-led sessions that help tackle difficult questions like the one above.
“You come to an understanding by vigorous interaction with the material and other people,” Kampmeier said of the workshops. “Workshops have a significant effect because you can’t be passive the way you can be in a lecture. Students have to be engaged in the workshop. It has a dramatic effect on understanding.”
Kampmeier likens the importance of the workshops to teaching someone to shoot a hook shot in basketball. “You can’t lecture someone on how to shoot a hook shot. You have to give them the ball.” Similarly he said, “Students don’t learn very well by being told. Understanding is facilitated by interacting with others.”
The workshops are especially helpful in organic chemistry, as many students find the subject formidable and overwhelming. According to Kampmeier, students have trouble grasping organic chemistry because “one needs to learn facts and ideas and to integrate the two to do something productive like explaining an observation, deducing a structure or a mechanism of reaction, or designing a synthesis of a molecule. [There is an] extensive body of material that requires intellectual organization.” Students in Kampmeier’s class have glowing comments to make about the workshops. “The workshops are very helpful,” sophomore Chris Cornachione said, “They reinforce the readings well.” Sophomore Ryan Acetta adds, “I’ve learned as much from the workshop as I have from the lectures, if not more.”
The workshops are one of the many contributions Kampmeier has made in his 40-plus years of teaching at UR. He chaired the Chemistry Department from 1975 to 1979. He served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1988 to 1991.
In 1974, UR recognized his teaching with an Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and again in 1999, with the Goergen Award for Distinguished Achievement and Artistry in Undergraduate Teaching.
These accolades reflect Kampmeier’s love for teaching which he says was fostered by his own time in college. “Going to college for me was a revolutionary kind of experience. I thought that having that powerful of an influence on people would be a great thing to do.”
Currently, Kampmeier is conducting research on the effectiveness of the workshop model. In a paper published last year in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching with colleagues Lydia Tien and Vicki Roth, Kampmeier found, using Rochester’s workshops as a sample, that they positively influenced “student performance, retention and attitude.”
Furthermore, the study concluded that all students, male and female, benefited from the workshop style.
Based on this data, Kampmeier believes that workshops could aid in increasing the numbers of minorities and women in science.
“If there are not enough women in science, then the question is what are you going to do about it? Workshops are a mechanism to help,” Kampmeier said.