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  • 05/02/18

    Driessen receives MN ACS Brasted Award for Excellence in College Chemistry Teaching

Professor Michelle Driessen has received the American Chemical Society (ACS) Minnesota Section's Brasted Award for Excellence in College Chemistry Teaching. The award, named in honor of the late Robert C. Brasted of the University of Minnesota, recognizes excellence in college teaching. Driessen was lauded for her teaching, commitment to undergraduate learning, mentorship of future chemistry teachers, and innovation in redesigning and enhancing the classroom and laboratory experiences for students.

As director of the Department of Chemistry’s general chemistry program, Driessen oversees more than 5,500 enrollments per year, representing about 30 percent of all the students at the University of Minnesota. During her time as director, she has made significant large-scale changes, some involving a complete overhaul of how the courses are taught.

Professor Michelle Driessen teaches her hybrid online course.

For example, in 2009, she developed an online course for more than 1,000 students who take introductory chemistry each fall semester. She developed the infrastructure for this course from scratch. At the same time, she combined her experience and large body of academic research on chemical education into a co-authored textbook and accompanying digital materials that was published in 2017.

In the summer of 2011, Driessen changed the way general chemistry laboratories are taught. Instead of using step-by-step laboratory manuals, small teams of up to four students work together on the chemical problems that they must solve and questions that they must answer. They must develop their own plans for investigation, optimize them, and demonstrate that they have addressed the original problems. This problem-based approach placed new responsibilities on teaching assistants, and Driessen developed an extensive training program for the 60+ teaching assistants she manages every semester.

Shortly after implementing the new laboratory curriculum, Driessen completely reorganized her general chemistry I lectures from the standard format to active learning. She developed a large library of short topical lecture videos and weekly problem-solving activities covering the most difficult concepts. The course was successfully implemented in the fall of 2012. The student response was so positive that she developed an active learning section of general chemistry II the following year, and continues to teach both of them each year. 

Driessen uses these courses as a research platform. She has been able to comparatively study the effectiveness of the different approaches to instruction, and how those impact success for women and economically disadvantaged groups. She has also been actively investigating and developing more quantitative measures of student learning that are needed across the curriculum.

Using her chemical education knowledge, she helped with the creation of a new Chemistry for Life Sciences curriculum that was launched in the fall of 2017 to better serve the chemistry needs of students in the College of Biological Sciences.

In addition to her regular teaching duties, Driessen works with students in the department’s directed studies course; mentors students who want to teach high school chemistry; works closely with members of the University’s Center for Educational Innovation; participates in Educational Innovation grant projects aimed at improving students' problem-solving skills; spends hours each week meeting with students; helps hire the department’s temporary faculty; serves as faculty adviser to the Society of Women Engineers; and participates in the President’s Distinguished Faculty Mentor Program.

Driessen earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Minnesota State University-Mankato, and her doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Iowa. She is co-author of “Introductory Chemistry: An Atoms First Approach,” published in 2017. She is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers, making her a Distinguished University Professor, after receiving the 2016-17 Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.