To “learn by doing” was advocated in chemistry labs long before TWU made it their slogan, as Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Dr. Richard Sheardy would agree. After a team of TWU faculty and administrators visited the annual summer institute of the SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements) project in 2007, inspiration was set ablaze. Eleven years and counting, Dr. Sheardy and the Chemistry and Biochemistry department have been encouraging students to be good stewards of the planet through civic engagement and social responsibility.
This past fall, the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department was one of 22 universities recognized by Caryn Tighe Musil of the AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities) for inclusion of civic responsibility in their curriculum. On top of that, they were one of nine universities that were asked to be featured in the Fall 2017 edition of Peer Review. By the recommendation of Cathy Middlecamp from the University of Wisconsin, Musil sought TWU out.
Their article “Civic- Centered Chemistry and Biochemistry” walks through the process of chemistry and biochemistry majors and highlights the importance of sustainability, water quality and green chemistry that TWU curriculum has adopted. While guiding students to become professional scientists, civic engagement helps students to share their scientific knowledge.
One of the activities the department encourages is their poster session at the mall. This event is designed to share their projects with the public. “We want to say it in a way that you can understand it,” Dr. Sheardy said. On a much larger scale, the department partnered with Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa in Brazil to compare waste-water treatment systems. Last Oct. and Nov., four civil engineering students from Brazil visited Texas, and four TWU chemistry and biochemistry students visited Brazil, including 1st-semester graduate student Skylar Wappes.
“It was a wonderful experience and I couldn’t thank Dr. Sheardy more for this opportunity that he gave us,” Wappes said. “I know I couldn’t have picked a better university to do my graduate and undergraduate studies.”
Last fall, the department offered the first environmental chemistry course. On Feb. 28, an Environmental Chemistry track was approved. The process to incorporate civic engagement into science majors has been slower than non-science majors because the change affects an entire curriculum culture.
Some are reluctant to adopt, but to those Dr. Sheardy said, “If we are creating good scientists that are socially responsible, it’s a win-win.”
As seen on page three of The Lasso, Vol. 104, Iss. No. 8, printed on March 7, 2018.