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Opinion: Formula for Disaster: Issues with the Chemistry Department

Chemistry is known for being a challenging subject, and students often end up accessing help outside of class in order to succeed. But this past semester, issues with the Chemistry Department resulted in widespread confusion, systemic academic struggles, and many more students than normal not passing courses.


Grayson Morris, ‘26, an English major, was only put in a chemistry course to earn Gen-Ed and Honors Lab credits required to graduate. She reported prominent issues with course scheduling, sharing that “everytime [her class] would show up to chem lab, [their] lab professor would have to teach [them] the concepts [they] should’ve learned in lecture” because the lecture schedule was so far behind. Thankfully, Morris’s lab professor explained these concepts well, but this took valuable time away from the actual lab procedures, which should’ve been the focus of the period.


Another student who wished to remain anonymous shared the same issue, saying that “the lecture was so far behind the lab that what we did in the lab made no sense to anyone.” \This student also expressed her dissatisfaction with the disparities in what was taught to students in different classes. She said, “It seemed like different teachers were telling their students completely different things,” which she reported made studying and adequately preparing for assignments and assessments very challenging. At one point, her professor improperly taught them how to use significant figures, and students had to teach themselves in order to succeed in the rest of the course.


One student, who wished to remain anonymous, shared her frustrating experiences in Gen Chem II last semester. She said her professor was incredibly disorganized and unprepared, and that “it got to the point for many people in the class that we had to stop listening because she would confuse topics we already understood.” She also said that her professor would speed through entire chapters of content, and at one point she even took a personal phone call in the middle of proctoring an exam.


She also reported several instances of miscommunication. Students were not adequately informed about tests, quizzes and other assignments, and clarifying questions were almost always ignored. Her class was also told that practice exams did not exist for the course and that students had to get these resources from their peers in other sections of the class.


This student did manage to get an A in the course, but attributes her success entirely to rigorous self-study and biweekly Learning Center appointments. Tutors would go through class PowerPoints and teach the material from scratch. As a STEM major with a chemistry minor, the student is going to continue with that degree path, but she is frustrated that it got to the point where she was in class for 3 hours per week just to have to teach herself all of the content, especially when she had a number of other rigorous courses to keep up with.


Another shared issue between students was the final exam. In general chemistry classes, take the American Chemical Society (ACS) Final Exam, a standardized test administered to students around the nation. Instead of being graded on exam correctness, you are graded on how well you performed in comparison to other Chemistry students across the country, and because of the issues with content learning, this was a major stressor for students. Morris said that “while [she] and [her] peers were able to find study aids for [the ACS] exam, it ended up being a test that the course couldn’t have properly prepared [them] for” and that many of the study aids they found cost students money.


She also shared frustration that students were not informed about taking the ACS final until right before the exam. “Since it was inevitable [that students would be] required to take [the ACS] exam, the course should’ve been more tailored to the exam,” she said. “There were topics covered [on the exam] that we had never learned before.”


The same Gen Chem II student quoted earlier shared that her class was told by the professor that “an entire semester's worth of content was going to be on the exam,” which wasn't true. When asked for clarification, her professor again said that Gen Chem I topics would be on the Gen Chem II final. Only after speaking with the department head was proper information about the content of the final exam shared with students.


The department offered a remedial virtual Gen Chem I course over the winter break to allow the vast number of students who didn’t pass the course during the semester to take it again and replace their grades. This course was announced to classes a couple months into the semester when it was clear that students were struggling and a large number of them weren’t going to pass the class.


Chemistry is a challenging subject, and these students knew that going into the course. However, misinformation, a lack of communication, and continued scheduling errors made an already academically challenging course nearly impossible and a major source of stress for these students. All of the students I spoke with managed to pass the course despite these issues, and many of them are STEM majors who are taking chemistry classes again this semester and are excited to continue their science education. But their success cost them significant amounts of time, energy, and even money to learn the information necessary for success, and not all students were able to make a passing grade.


By Clary Taylor, Copy Editor

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