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  • Christopher Douglas

    Professor Douglas receives Taylor Award for Distinguished Teaching

Honored for innovative, passionate, and outstanding teaching

Professor Christopher J. Douglas has received the 2017 George W. Taylor/College of Science & Engineering Alumni Society Award for Distinguished Teaching, which recognizes outstanding contributions to undergraduate and graduate teaching.

“Professor Douglas has developed a outstanding track record of innovative, passionate, and outstanding teaching both in the classroom and as a research advisor,” said Professor William Tolman, chair of the Department of Chemistry.

Since joining the Department of Chemistry in 2007, Douglas has taught more than 1,750 undergraduates and 120 graduate students in his classrooms, working hard to make some of chemistry’s most challenging courses understandable to those students. He has taught the department’s large service organic chemistry courses, and advanced undergraduate majors and graduate students in the honors-level introductory organic chemistry, upper-level organic synthesis, and physical organic chemistry courses. 

Douglas organizes his classroom time into a series of short lectures and short group activities. Instead of using clickers, he has his students report out by instant class polls where the students all raise their hands simultaneously, showing a hand sign for the options they vote on. He also creates in-class activities and mini-projects that students work on in small teams during class time. Circulating the classroom while the students work, Douglas then selects teams to present their answers on a document camera, and other students listen to how their peers approached the problem. He also has incorporated construction exercises, where students use kits to construct three-dimensional, hand-held, pictures of organic molecules to understand the size, shape, and reactivity of organic structures during class. 

Professor Christopher Douglas teaching an organic chemistry class.
Professor Christopher Douglas is a master educator, tackling some of chemistry's hardest, large-enrollment courses.

“I really enjoyed the interactive format where the class was encouraged to participate. I think Professor Douglas did a great job teaching the material,” wrote one of his students in the course evaluation.

In addition, Douglas works to improve his classroom and teaching techniques. This has included working with Kris Gorman, Ph.D., from the University’s Center for Educational Innovation to review and improve his syllabi in an effort to better articulate the learning goals for his classes. He also worked closely with Gorman on mid-semester evaluations of his courses to gauge how the class is going and either course-correct or better explain goals to motivate his students for his class activities. 

Douglas created learning activities to conduct a pedagogical study on the impacts of a hybrid Traditional Lecture/Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Leaning (POGIL) approach to organic chemistry instruction, when compared to a more traditional, but active learning, approach. He incorporated POGIL exercises into his graduate/senior level organic synthesis course. He created “Synthesis Friday” activities, where teams of students would, though guided learning, propose syntheses for complex organic molecules. He also organized extra sessions outside of the scheduled class hours to work on key skills such as using organic chemistry’s curved arrow formalism or proposing reasonable mechanistic pathways for newly encountered reactions. 

Beyond the classroom, Professor Douglas is engaged in other forms of teaching and curricular development, including serving as a mentor for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers involved in the department’s Mentorship Program for Aspiring Chemistry Teachers. He was also the department’s faculty liaison with the Writing Enriched Curriculum program, working to update and overhaul the departments approach to writing across the entire curriculum. 

Professor Douglas’ service to teaching mission is not limited to the Department of Chemistry. For the past three years, he has served as a faculty facilitator and mentor through the Cottrell Scholar Collaborative New Faculty Workshop in chemistry, held each summer at the American Chemical Society headquarters in Washington D.C. This workshop is for first-year faculty in chemistry departments across the country.

Douglas earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Minnesota, and his doctorate from the University of California, Irvine. Before joining the Department of Chemistry, he was a post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology. His honors and awards include the George Taylor Development Award, the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, and being named a DuPont Young Investigator and Cottrell Scholar.

He will be honored at the CSE pre-commencement celebration, Friday, May 12. Other current Department of Chemistry professors who have received this award include Mark Distefano, Marc Hillmyer, Doreen Leopold, Kenneth Leopold, Aaron Massari, and Kent Mann.