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Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Experience        Teaching Philosophy

    Teaching and mentoring students is one of the greatest rewards of being a scientist. I have worked with over 500 undergraduates in classroom, laboratory, and field settings and take pride in my ability to connect to individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests. The value I place on my role in the classroom is evidenced by the five teaching awards I have received, four of which were determined by department-wide student votes. I strive to (1) create a discussion-oriented atmosphere in which questions are encouraged; (2) develop tangible links between the course material and the world in which we live; (3) use interactive group activities to involve students in the learning process; (4) readily adapt to different learning styles and rates; and (5) maintain a dynamic and energetic attitude. I instill confidence in my mentees through team building, peer mentoring, and by cultivating independent problem solving skills. My accessibility as a mentor is highlighted in my student evaluations and I consider the opportunity to teach a privilege.

Making Science Accessible
Drawing connections to present-day environmental issues provides context and motivation for understanding chemical principles, and has demonstrated 
success in retaining female and minority students in STEM. For example, the Flint water crisis can be used to study the relationship between pH, 
alkalinity, chloride, and lead concentrations. By working through a series of calculations, students can quantify how the change in Flint’s municipal water supply affected the corrosivity of the water. Similar datasets for regions in California could then be used to evaluate the consequence of climate change on West Coast drinking water sources, and the potential impact on lead concentrations in our water supply. Furthermore, our ability to accurately measure lead in drinking water can be linked to a discussion on radioactive decay. The trace metal clean techniques that Clair Patterson established to determine the age of the earth (based on U-Pb decay) allowed scientists to make the first accurate measurements of trace metals in natural waters. This advance revolutionized our understanding of metal cycling in the modern environment and was directly responsible for the phase out of leaded gasoline in the United States, a story that was the focus of a 2014 episode of COSMOS.
    In addition to class discussions and exercises, labs and field activities can effectively illustrate fundamental connections between geochemical, biological, and physical processes. When I taught the Chemical Oceanography summer module at WHOI, I developed a field exercise in which the students measured salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and pH in coastal waters over changing tidal and daylight conditions. This time series data enabled each group to test their hypotheses regarding (1) seawater-freshwater interaction, (2) the effect of photosynthesis on oxygen concentrations, and (3) the potential influence of water temperature on gas solubility. Additionally, the students graphed pore water geochemical data vs. depth, which provided a link to understanding deep ocean geochemical depth profiles.

Promoting Diversity in Academia  
I grew up in a multi-cultural family and recognize that diversity inspires creativity by encouraging individuals to consider alternative perspectives. Throughout my academic career I have been engaged in science outreach programs such as the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the Woods Hole Partnership in Education Program: Increasing Diversity in the Ocean and Environmental Sciences. The ~40 field and lab volunteers I have trained include 25 women, seven Asians, four Latinos, two LGBT students, and one Native American. Furthermore, I recognize that diversity extends beyond socioeconomics, gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, and culture – diversity can manifest from circumstance. My sister suffered a traumatic brain injury and her approach to learning is different from that of her peers. I am acutely aware of the impact a mentor’s attitude can have on a student’s self-esteem and determination. Both the cultural and circumstantial diversity in my own background have a profound impact on the way I interface with students.

Research participation can play a critical role in undergraduate career development. My projects are field and lab intensive and provide ample opportunity for both long-term (e.g., senior thesis) and short-term (1-7 days) student involvement. I have trained more than 40 lab and field volunteers who have helped collect and/or analyze water and sediment from coastal and riparian systems. I have also been the primary advisor or co-advisor to 12 undergraduate researchers from a range of majors, including Chemistry, Marine Biology, and Earth Sciences, as well as interns from science outreach programs. I work closely with my advisees, training them to independently complete complex chemical analyses, process data, interpret results, and present their research via a combination of grant, abstract, and publication writing, and through oral and poster conference presentations. Among my former mentees, 
one is first author on a high profile PNAS journal article, four are first authors on abstracts for national and international conferences, seven received competitive research awards, and three submitted senior theses with honors.

My role as a mentor extends beyond the classroom and I regularly advise students on their course curriculum, undergraduate research opportunities, career interests, résumé design, and graduate school. I have written letters of recommendation for more than 25 students in support of their applications to graduate programs, internships, and/or fellowships and remain in contact with many of my past mentees. Because I worked for several years in the field of environmental protection and remediation, I can provide insight and/or contacts for careers paths in the government sector (e.g., USGS, EPA, NOAA, State Water Board, Park Service) as well as the private sector (e.g., environmental consultant companies and industry), and have frequently disseminated student résumés to colleagues in both academic and non-academic positions.