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Title: Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Best Office Artifact: Periodic table of elements blocks
As a kid, Prof. Megan Moyer’s favorite subject was science. “In third grade, I wanted to be a scientist who wore a lab coat and lab goggles when I grew up, even though I didn’t really understand what chemistry was at that point,” she says. She liked chemistry in high school, but she didn’t fall in love until her first inorganic chemistry course.
“Learning about the different colors of gold nanoparticles (they’re not gold anymore when they’re nano sized!) sparked a much deeper interest in the subject and led to me specializing in inorganic materials chemistry in grad school.”
She joined the Carthage faculty in 2018 and teaches courses in general chemistry and the associated labs. Her research interests include porous support materials such as mesoporous silica and ordered porous carbons used with a variety of catalysts including precious metal nanoparticles, single-site catalysts, and biocatalysts.
We spoke with Professor Moyer about her passion for chemistry, why she enjoys teaching first-year chemistry students, and her advice for students.
What was your journey to becoming a Carthage professor like? Why did you choose to teach at Carthage?
“When I made the choice to go to grad school, my ultimate goal was to be able to become a professor. … As soon as I visited Carthage, I knew that this would be the absolute best opportunity for me. The location is beautiful, the members in the Chemistry Department work really well together, and the lab facilities are top notch. When I interviewed, I had excellent and encouraging conversations with many of the faculty members. What really stuck out was their passion for teaching and their love for the way Carthage facilitates this through small class sizes.”
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“It’s very easy for professors and students to get to know one another here, and that connection lasts not just for the semester you have that class, but for a long time.”
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How do you push students outside of their comfort zones?
“Teaching first-year chemistry is very interesting because I feel it’s part of my duty to bridge that gap between the way a high school class is run and the way a college course is run. I include skeletal notes in my lecture and do practice problems on the board, but every class involves the students working on their own as well. They are always encouraged to use the example I’ve provided as a jumping off point, but they need to make connections and build on ideas to solve subsequent and more difficult practice problems. I also work on helping students to become independent in the laboratory setting right away. They are required to come to class prepared and I tell them to work together with their lab partner first before asking me about the procedure. I will clarify points and ensure they work safely, but the majority of the experimental process comes from their own understanding and through working collaboratively.”
You participate in Carthage’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), mentoring Carthage students in summer research projects. What do you hope students take away from their work/time with you?
“I hope my students learn that science is a process, that it’s OK to fail, and that research and problem solving can be fun and rewarding. We have already encountered some setbacks, but my students are always willing to try something new or out of the ordinary. It’s difficult to pick up a scientific paper and piece together the greatly abbreviated experimental section to create your own procedure, and many students do not have the opportunity to do this and follow through with characterization and application of their products until grad school. Hopefully, through SURE they are getting a leg up on their future endeavors as well as learning something that they can take into their remaining classes at Carthage.”
Any favorite moments from your first year at Carthage?
“One that comes to mind is working with a student in office hours before an exam, but getting onto the subject of cars, including fuel and catalytic converters. I spent a lot of time thinking, writing, and talking about catalysis in grad school, so this was a really fun conversation for me, and my student brought up many new points to consider since he knew a lot about cars. Another moment that was very memorable for me was watching the senior thesis presentations at the end of the fall semester. I had been in a few defenses, but to see the seniors talk about their research and share their knowledge with friends and family really impressed me.”
Tell us about a hobby you have that may surprise your students.
“I make amazing pork green chili, and even though that’s not really a thing in Wisconsin, it was hugely popular in Colorado. I also read and collect Tarot cards, though I certainly don’t ascribe all the woo-woo new age nonsense to them. They work as a useful reflection tool for me and often for others.”
What is your favorite class to teach?
“So far, I think CHM 1010 has been my favorite. Some of the content, such as electron configuration, brings back fond memories of my own freshman chemistry course. I also like having a large variety of students from different majors and in different stages of their college career, which you get in that class. It’s a great class to get students thinking about the role chemistry plays in their everyday life, and I always learn new things and start to look at my own world through that general chemistry lens.”
What advice do you have for new or prospective students interested in chemistry? Anything you wish you would have known during your time as an undergrad?
“Chemistry does not have to be scary. I think many people come into the class with an opinion that science is hard, that they are bad at it, and that they will have a very difficult time keeping up in the class. Chemistry is really a subject that helps explain why things are the way they are in the world around you, so having at least a fundamental understanding of it is important. I would advise prospective chemistry students to make sure they have a solid math foundation, but also to keep an open mind and realize that there are many ways to arrive at the correct answer. Just because a teacher or professor tells you one way to do it does not mean that’s the only correct way.”
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“Chemistry does not have to be scary. Chemistry is really a subject that helps explain why things are the way they are in the world around you…”
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“I wish I would have been more diligent about regularly attending all my classes as an undergrad Skipping class really does end up hurting you by the end of the semester. I also wish I would have gone to more office hours and gotten to know my professors, because I really didn’t do that until grad school. Getting to know your professors and being comfortable asking them questions is so incredibly helpful to your undergrad experience.”
Anything else you would like to add about your work or time at Carthage?
“Carthage is such a wonderful school! I did not attend a small liberal arts school myself, but I’ve been very impressed with how things are done here. It’s very easy for professors and students to get to know one another here, and that connection lasts not just for the semester you have that class, but for a long time. I’m very grateful to be able to teach here, to learn from other faculty and my students, and I am looking forward to this next school year!”
— Interview by Madeline Paakkonen ’21