Changes to Chemistry Curriculum

By Cassandra Sottile 
Elm Staff Writer

It’s the year of change for academics at Washington College.

The chemistry department, under co-chairs Dr. Anne Marteel-Parrish and Dr. Aaron Amick, recently revised its curriculum for the next academic year, a transition year for the department.

“The chemistry department’s faculty members have rebuilt the chemistry curriculum from the ground up to prepare our students for the 21st century. This exemplifies our dedication to providing the highest quality chemistry instruction possible and demonstrates the value of a WC education,” Dr. Amick said.

After three years of planning and approval from the curriculum committee, the natural sciences and mathematics division and faculty, the curriculum was changed to emphasize the biological aspects of chemistry.

“The field of chemistry has undergone a transformation in the first decade of this century, but the traditional chemistry curriculum has not been able to effectively adapt to this change,” Dr. Marteel-Parrish said.

As part of the new curriculum introduced next year, General Chemistry will not be offered. The gateway to the major will be a new course called Chemical Principles of Organic Molecules, which will introduce many concepts from general chemistry, but from the perspective of organic molecules. Upon completion of the first gateway course, students transition to the new secondary courses, Reactions of Organic Molecules and Quantitative Chemical Analysis.

“It is our hope that our proposed curricular changes will provide better coverage of chemical concepts that are important in biological and biochemical systems earlier, allow all departmental faculty to teach in our introductory courses, and create more flexibility in course sequencing for students,” Dr. Marteel-Parrish said.

One section of the new gateway course, Chemical Principles of Organic Molecules, will be offered every semester, which will allow students to begin their chemistry coursework either in the fall or spring semester.

“These courses will help ensure that our majors not only gain sufficient exposure to more advanced concepts in inorganic and organic chemistry, but that they are adequately prepared to work as independent scientists in our capstone experience and careers beyond WC,” Dr. Marteel-Parrish said.

Another change to the curriculum is the restructuring of courses to allow the math content into the second-year courses, which gives students the opportunity to complete quantitative skills courses in their first year at the College before attempting courses with a greater math content.

“One of the primary challenges with our current chemistry major is the required four-course introductory sequence. Given the large number of courses and labs in this sequence, our department has been restricted in which courses we offer each semester,” Dr. Marteel-Parrish said.

General Chemistry I and Organic Chemistry I are offered in the fall semester, while General Chemistry II and Organic Chemistry II are the spring semester. Prior to the revisions to the curriculum, if students were unable to complete General Chemistry in the fall of their first year, they would have to wait until their second year to begin the coursework.

“That hierarchical structure prevents all students from completing their coursework in the different sub-disciplines of chemistry until their junior or senior years, and poses challenges for students who wish to study abroad or double major,” Dr. Marteel-Parrish said.

As it stands, General Chemistry I and II are composites of the different sub-disciplines of chemistry in which the material does not flow from one topic to another. The current curriculum also parallels most high school chemistry courses, which means courses are either redundant for more advanced students or boring for students who feel they are not relevant for their interests.

“Our ability to provide an education that reflects chemistry in this century that is increasingly interdisciplinary and biochemical in focus is limited. The revised curriculum brings the discipline into this century at a college level,” Dr. Marteel-Parrish said.

Any chemistry students with questions about the new curriculum and requirements can find more information at:

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