Chemistry Courses for Non-Majors

Teaching non-science majors to become science-literate and to understand that science is a way of knowing has always been a part of the mission for the Department of Chemistry. One such course that the department has offered over the years is CHE 104 – Chemicals, Drugs and Living Systems. Students take this course to fulfill their liberal studies program’s scientific inquiry (SI) learning domain requirement.

Dr. Lihua Jin, Chair of the Department, recently visited the class to see firsthand how the students of CHE 104 are doing in learning science as a way of knowing. The course is currently taught by Dr. Gwen Baumann. Dr. Baumann is a professional lecturer who joined the department in the fall of 2016. Having received her education at MIT (B.S.) and the Johns Hopkins University (Ph.D.), taught chemistry and other science subjects for two decades at various colleges and universities, Dr. Baumann brings to the class a wealth of knowledge and effective teaching strategies. The focus of the course is on the molecular structure and function of drugs and their use for common diseases and ailments.  Students are learning how to think critically about drugs in the world, including everyday common drugs.

When Dr. Jin visited the class on Wednesday, Feb. 22nd…

…the class was nearly full with most of the 41 enrolled students present, a very good sign for a non-majors course. When asked by Dr. Jin at the start of the class if they are having fun in the course, many students nodded their heads, saying the course was interesting. A group of three students were scheduled to present a talk on the business side of the Pharma industry. The class, worksheet in hand, listened intently and jotted down answers on the worksheet as the presentation progressed. The student presenters gave a historical view of various topics such as drug dispensing, sources of drugs, regulation and incentive for the Pharma industry, the drug regulation sectors, the different phases of clinical trials (in particular, the relative number of volunteers at each phase), the factors that influence the future of the Pharma industry, and finally the role of internet in empowering patients and consumers in the future. At the end of the presentation, the presenters started quizzing the class using the questions that were handed out before the presentation and students quickly volunteered answers to the questions.

Having students research a topic, present their findings and then quiz the class with questions of their own clearly helps not only the presenters but the entire class to learn more effectively.  It’s a form of active learning that has proven to increase learning and boost retention of content.  Being able to include such active learning into a non-science majors’ chemistry course takes much planning. However, if it benefits the students, it’s worth the effort! Dr. Jin and Dr. Baumann hope the students are not only learning about important drugs, but are also learning that science is indeed a way of knowing, which is what the course was designed to accomplish!


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