Special Pedagogy Seminar: "Completing education of chemistry majors: Experience in physical chemistry at Penn State"
How well prepared are BS Science majors for their postgraduate endeavors? How can they be more competitive on the job market or more efficient in graduate school?
Over the last decade, about 50% of the Penn State College of Chemistry BS graduates obtained jobs in industry or government labs. The other half continued their education by seeking advanced degrees in fields such as chemistry, material sciences, pharmacy, medicine, business administration, law, etc. Exit interviews revealed satisfaction with their preparation for their chosen paths. However, more work needed to be done.
Interviews of the recruiters who come to Penn State filtered out the following areas in which improvements can be made for the development of technical and soft skills:
- The ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings - completing a significant (applied) learning project before graduation would improve the quality of students' preparation for careers
- The ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing
- The knowledge retention of both specific knowledge/skills and broad knowledge/skills
- The ability to work effectively with others in teams
- Safety at work
- Ethical judgment and decision-making
Analyzing needs for and producing reports about the reform of chemistry undergraduate curriculum and reforming it are two very different activities; the latter seems to be much more complex and challenging.
The presentation describes my pedagogical approach aimed at making improvements in the areas indicating by the recruiters. It utilizes modified project based learning. It is executed in the three-course-sequence consisting of CHEM 457 (experimental physical chemistry), CHEM 459W (advanced experimental physical chemistry), and CHEM 494 (undergraduate research).
Several examples will illustrate how to overcome the problem of producing and integrating new knowledge without extensive background knowledge and within limited time.