James Coy-Dibley was a student that many from the Department interacted with even though he wasn’t a chemistry major. He did well in his courses and eventually became a chemistry tutor. Interestingly, James decided to publish a workbook of chemistry material based on his experience as a tutor. Our chair, Dr. Lihua Jin, asked him a few questions about his time at DePaul recently and here are his answers:
1) What has an education at DePaul done for you?
An education from DePaul University provided me with a seamless combination of academic progress and personal achievement, fueled by both the dedication of outstanding faculty and the plethora of opportunities the university offers its students. From day one, the emphasis of DePaul’s faculty focuses on their students’ success, both in and out of the classroom. At DePaul, it is not just a matter of ensuring that the student thrives within the classes and university setting, but, equally, that the student earns a degree and gains experience that will prepare him or her into a successful career after DePaul. The chemistry department at DePaul embodied this approach, with the dedicated professors providing me with both a fantastic education as well as the several opportunities that propelled me to where I am today.
2) What opportunities have you taken advantage of at DePaul/in the chemistry department that has been critical for your growth as a student/tutor?
One of the more daunting tasks of any first-year science student is the overwhelming emphasis from advisors and mentors to become involved. Almost from day one, the student must focus on their applications for graduate school and an incredible GPA alone will not cut it. To truly excel in their desired science career, the student must gain hands on experiences – queue the entry of DePaul University. I have always known my passion was science, and like many of my fellow science classmates, this naturally led most of us towards either a career in the medical field or research. From the first few weeks at DePaul I found myself gravitating towards the field of chemistry. Through the courses taught by the brilliant professors in DePaul’s chemistry department, I also found one of my most influential mentors who inspired me to aim high and, ultimately, played a key part in many of my current-day accomplishments. In my first year, Dr. Jin provided an opportunity to be involved in a tenure project when after only two months in the college, I prepared and presented a statistical summary of student opinions of the professor which were obtained from surveying previous students over a span of more than a decade. I presented this report to both the chemistry department and a university board, both experiences an honor to have contributed—exciting and nerve-racking.
The conclusion of my first-year opened the door to more opportunities made available to me by DePaul’s chemistry department, the most noteworthy my becoming a teaching assistant (TA) and course assistant (CA). Both invaluable experiences led to the discovery of another calling: teaching. It was during my time as a TA and CA that I developed a love for teaching others chemistry. On top of being a TA and CA, the chemistry department provided me with the opportunity to become a chemistry tutor. Ultimately, between being a CA, TA, and a chemistry tutor through the department, I decided in my sophomore year to start my own tutoring business, which still operates, helping students in a multitude of subjects. I find it incredibly rewarding when the students I tutor improve the grade on their next test and I see their excitement afterwards. Accompanying me through all of these experiences, my freshman-year mentor would persistently encourage me. My passion for the field of chemistry and teaching other students would not have occurred were it not for the dedicated, inspiring, and motivating faculty of the DePaul chemistry department and the opportunities they afforded me.
3) You published a general chemistry workbook shortly after you graduated from DePaul with a B.S. Can you tell us the why/when/how regarding your writing and publishing process? What motivated you to do this? What roadblocks did you encounter or help that you received from others?
The general chemistry workbook and solutions manual was born from the passion of chemistry and teaching instilled in me from the chemistry department – and, of course, a healthy dose of luck. I started writing the book during the winter quarter of my senior year and finished it by the end of July with countless late nights and early mornings along the way. It contains all of the successful approaches at teaching the content that I discovered through the experiences as a TA/CA and through my private tutoring company. I incorporated the teaching strategies I applied that worked for all of my students in the hope that the book can serve as a strong supplemental resource in the challenging general chemistry sequence. My hope is not only that the book will help them pass the class but that it also provides a glimpse of the inspiration I gained from the field of chemistry and to help more people enjoy the subject.
The book was published at the end of August through the publishing company that I created, Chicago House Press Inc. As of now, the company only has the one book, but in the near future I hope to be putting out a few more of my own materials. In 2017, I hope to start accepting the works of other people, which I am very excited and slightly nervous about. The best feeling was when I finally held a copy of my book in my hands for the first time, genuinely thankful that the print job went well and that the figures showed up nicely. But this book does not represent the completion of a project – it represents a stepping stone. I hope to expand the method used in this book to other science courses as well as explore different forms of media, such as a dedicated website and educational videos outlining each lesson. The reception, thus far, has been only positive. Granted, the book was first sold only a couple of months ago but the feedback portrays a very helpful science resource that is helping a lot of people. I know that the book would be able to help more people if they knew about the resource, which I hope becomes more mainstream in the near future.
My biggest obstacle in the creation of this book, without a doubt, was time. I started the book with only six months before graduation and wanted to ensure that I produced the book before the next school year with the highest quality possible. One of the biggest supports came from my then-current tutoring students, who gladly sampled the sections of the workbook as it was produced. From their valuable suggestions and instrumental feedback, I felt that the workbook emerged as the best it could be for the time. The students helped me edit as I went; the workbook and solutions manual is written from the perspective of a student and for the student in every way. From one-on-one tutoring, I could see the vastly different learning styles from all of my students, but they all shared one thing in common once they gained confidence: they could all do it. The workbook blends so many learning styles into one approach that accommodates each one. I just hope that the students learn about this resource and have the opportunity to use it. Nothing saddens me more than to see a student fail chemistry or turn away from their passion when that student could do it with just a bit of extra support. I want to increase retention in chemistry and hope that this workbook does just that.
At DePaul I met several truly remarkable people, both faculty and students. Were it not for their support and inspiration, there would be no workbook; it is as simple as that.
4) What advice would you give current and future DePaul students or students taking chemistry to succeed in the program?
As generic as it may sound: study. But to differ from the obvious, I would advise the students to ‘want’ to study for their exams, to be excited about learning the incredible subject of chemistry. Chemistry demands much from a student, but the knowledge gained from a good chemistry course proves invaluable in the real world. A strong foundation in chemistry will serve anyone in any science career. So instead of asking ‘why am I even learning this’ see the connections between the subject and the real world. They are always there.