Wrapping Up the CUTF: Reflecting on a Case Study Semester

With less than two weeks remaining in the Spring 2022 semester, my project mentor, Dr. Scott Nelson, and I are wrapping up the UHC Organic Chemistry II Case Study Supplement and working with students to prepare for their final examination. We are also reflecting on the integration of the Case Study Supplement with the course lectures, problem sets, and recitation discussions and how each of these components may be tailored in the future to more cohesively support the others. By the end of the semester, there will be 14 weekly iterations of the Case Study Supplement, each with multiple research-literature-based questions that challenge students to work collaboratively and think outside the box to uncover and reimagine synthetic strategies.

I am truly grateful to Brett Say and the University Honors College for their support of this Case Study Supplement project. Through the CUTF application process, I was able to build a tangible outline of my goals for the development of the CHEM 0740 course and the development of my own teaching skills through this project. Through the support of Dr. Nelson, I was able to learn a great deal personally about medicinal chemistry as I scanned the research literature for applicable antineoplastic-agent-focused syntheses and concepts. Through my interactions with the students in CHEM 0740, I was able to construct practice problems with week-to-week continuity and even add problems specifically addressing ‘trouble points’ in students’ understanding of key concepts. Through the University Honors College Research Fair, I was able to articulate the project’s progress, share our work with the broader University community, and learn new methods and approaches from my Honors College peers. This has been an incredibly enriching experience, and I am glad to have been able to serve the CHEM 0740 course and the University Honors College through this project.

The most valuable component of this Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship project has been my interactions with the students in CHEM 0740. They are talented individuals who have taken on the challenge of the University Honors College version of one of the most notoriously difficult undergraduate science courses. This is a reflection of their work ethic, their willingness to accept challenges, and their motivation to succeed. It is incredibly rewarding to support these students on their first journey through organic chemistry and to encourage them to connect what they learn in the course to past experiences and future aspirations. This has been the goal of the Case Study Supplement–to allow the CHEM 0740 students to apply the concepts learned in lecture to anticancer drug design and synthetic strategies, illustrating just one biomedical application of the course material. These interactions have reinforced my understanding of teaching as, primarily, an endeavor in building relationships. Within those relationships, knowledge may be built and transferred. From those relationships, new intellectual interests and passions may arise. Because of those relationships, both the teacher and the student become better communicators, better problem-solvers, and, hopefully, better people inside and outside of the classroom.

In the coming months, I hope to work with Dr. Nelson to refine the Case Study Supplement in preparation for its use in future semesters. With the content of the project established, I will polish up the formatting, add narrative components to tie together the weekly iterations into a cohesive unit, and build out both a solutions manual and a teaching use manual to support the students and professors, respectively, who will use this resource in the future. Over the summer, I plan to begin the process of submitting this body of work for publication in the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS) peer-reviewed case collection. This will allow us to share the Case Study Supplement beyond the University of Pittsburgh and, in the publication process, gain even more feedback to further refine the project for future use in the CHEM 0730-0740 course sequence.

This summer, I will also be honing my teaching skills while working as a Biology Teaching Assistant and Residential Counselor at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS). As one teaching project ends, another begins! In this new role, I will have the opportunity to mentor some of the brightest high schoolers from across Pennsylvania in a collaborative academic and social setting. I plan to put into practice the skills I have learned throughout my time in the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship while developing new strategies to employ when I return to CHEM 0730/0740 TAing in the Fall 2022 semester.

This is just one example of a Case Study Supplement problem presented to the CHEM 0740 students this semester. While this represents a straightforward synthetic strategy, the narrative structure of the CSS provides background regarding the pharmacological purposes of this geldanamycin derivatization reaction while the collaborative format of CSS Office Hours encourages mechanistic consideration of each step in the reaction pathway.

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