Chemistry Department Updates Curriculum

The Department of Chemistry has updated its undergraduate curriculum by redesigning courses and allowing chemistry majors to explore more electives.

General Chemistry I and II (Chem 141 and Chem 142) have been combined into one class, Chem 150: Structure and Properties. Laboratory courses are now independent, two-credit courses rather than being paired with a lecture as one credit. By Fall 2018, Organic Chemistry (Chem 221 and Chem 222) will be replaced with Chem 202: Foundations of Reactivity, Chem 203: Advanced Reactivity and Chem 204: Macromolecules.

The changes aim to “improve student learning and understanding of chemistry and improve students’ scientific reasoning skills,” according to Department of Chemistry Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies Douglas Mulford.

The new curriculum aims to shift from teaching topics in a detailed but isolated manner to emphasizing connections between topics, Mulford said. Topics such as kinetics and thermodynamics, which were previously not covered in depth until higher-level courses, will now be introduced in the foundational courses. Mulford said that he hopes the changes will allow students to focus more on reasoning and understanding rather than memorization.

“We wanted to move away from labs being verifications of lecture material to focusing on specific aspects of the experimental science of chemistry that were specific to laboratory environments,” Mulford said. The department agreed the amount of work required of students for lab as a separate course is more in line with two credit hours than one.

Chemistry majors will also now have more options for electives. Previously, chemistry majors could only choose one elective and the remainder of their required major courses were outlined for them. Under the new curriculum, students have the chance to take more classes that interest them.

Chemistry department faculty members began discussing possible changes to courses and major requirements in 2013, Mulford said. The decision was largely faculty-driven, although some professors spoke with some student chemistry mentors to gain insight into topics students have trouble learning.

The change is largely cost neutral as the department has not had to hire additional faculty. However, a $1.2 million from the nonprofit research organization Howard Hughes Medical Institute will help fund the purchase of modernized instruments as well as the improvement of laboratory courses.

Pre-med students will now take Chem 150, 202, 203 and 204, according to Mulford. Although the courses no longer have the traditional names of General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry, Mulford said the new curriculum will cover more topics that appear on the MCAT so students can be better prepared than in the past.

Senior Lecturer Tracy McGill piloted the new curriculum during the 2016-2017 academic year. The class explored the integrated ideas of the new curriculum and was well-received by both students and faculty, according to Mulford.

“I think the new curriculum is a positive change,” Francesca Rossi (20C), who took McGill’s pilot class, said. “It introduces foundational organic chemistry knowledge at a slow pace to make actual organic chemistry less daunting.”

Students in other sections of General Chemistry during the 2016-2017 school year were taught based on the previous curriculum.

“I don’t understand why Organic Chemistry, which is currently two classes, is being replaced with three classes,” Jessy McLean (20C) said. “It seems unnecessary.”

Mulford added that the new curriculum will better help prepare students for a post-Emory career.

“We as a faculty are very excited about this chance to improve learning for Emory students and to be leaders in chemistry education on a national scale,” Mulford said.

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