Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire


New biology, chemistry professors help meet course demand, expand elective offerings

Illustration: Ariel Carter-Rodriguez

The chemistry and biology departments have each added one new tenure track professor for the 2012-2013 academic year to diversify upper level offerings and to help meet the high demand for introductory courses.

The addition of the new professors comes with changes in class sizes in the chemistry department and accompanies the restructuring of the biology major. The chemistry department has added one new tenure track faculty member but agreed to increase class sizes in general chemistry courses in order to make the new hire.

“[In] gen chem, each section will have 40 to 45 people, which is an increase from 35, but that’s the deal we made to get the new person,” said Dunnivant.

Some students have voiced concerns about this proposed increase in class size. General chemistry student and first-year Chelan Pauly prefers smaller classes, and believes larger classes could inhibit students from asking questions.

“I know some people do get confused in having larger classes. Sometimes people get intimidated asking questions, and there’s just not enough time for everyone to ask questions,” said Pauly.

The ability of the professor to monitor students’ understanding in a 45 person class is a concern for first-year general chemistry student Carl Garrett.

“I think it will make it a little bit harder for the teacher to keep track of individual students. [The professor] will have to focus more on a larger group of students than the couple who are struggling, and  I think that will definitely impact some of the education happening,” said Garrett.

The biology department will welcome Dr. Arielle Couley, a senior lecturer at  the University of Michigan. She will teach “Genetics and Evolutionary Developmental Biology” next year, and “Plant Physiology” in the future.

The biology department altered its major requirements this year to accommodate the large number of biology majors.  Chair of the Biology Department Delbert Hutchison has seen record numbers of students enrolling in biology courses.

“It’s a combination of general interest in the life sciences and far more students coming into Whitman than we can handle, and it’s a crisis situation over here,” said Hutchison.

To reduce course pressures, the biology department altered its major requirements this year. Instead of requiring all majors to take the same three upper level classes, students now must take one course from three categories, each of which has at least three options.

“Instead of everyone having to take the same three upper level classes . . . now you have four or five options, at least four options in each of the different categories. As students spread themselves out, those classes should get down to no more than 24. That’s our goal,” said Hutchison.

The courses Professor Couley will teach diversify the upper level offerings for biology majors.

“Rearrangement of the structure should spread kids out, but adding a new faculty member gives us a lot more options to stick in that list so they won’t be piling up in the same classes,” said Hutchison.

The chemistry department serves large numbers of non-majors in its lower level classes. This year, approximately 180 students are enrolled in “General Chemistry”, and 130 are enrolled in “Organic Chemistry”.

The new chemistry professor, Mark Boland, who is currently at the University of Puget Sound, will teach “General Chemistry” and “Quantitative Analysis”, classes required for the major, allowing other faculty to teach electives.

Despite increased general chemistry class sizes, Dunnivant believes that adding the new hire helps the department meet demand and offer electives.

“We can teach all the courses we need to teach for the major and for the college, although they are a little larger than we’d like, but that’s just the way it is with financial pressures right now, and we offer beautiful electives for our majors,” said Dunnivant.

Dunnivant notes that the chemistry department does not offer many electives each year.

“Generally a professor only gets to teach their elective once every other year, but there’s 8 or 9 of us, so we always have an elective offered,” said Dunnivant.

Senior chemistry major Haya Jamali credits the presence of visiting professors for allowing other professors to teach elective courses. She appreciates the elective offerings.

“I think in my time here, because of the new hires, I’ve taken two elective courses personally, and there’s been another two offered. That’s really great that we have those electives because it allows the seniors to get into classes that are a little bit more specialized, but that’s only possible because we have other professors teaching ‘Gen Chem’ and ‘Orgo,'” said Jamali.

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