Department of Chemistry Announces Four New Assistant Heads for Undergraduate Education

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25 February 2019


The Department of Chemistry is excited to announce the creation of four new assistant head positions for undergraduate education. The assistant heads will be working with Dr. Dan Sykes, Associate Head and Director of Analytical Laboratory Instruction, to promote and develop an undergraduate program that will be better equipped to educate and support the chemists of the future. The four new assistant heads will be Dr. Joe Houck (Assistant Head for UG Curriculum), Dr. Kate Masters (Assistant Head for Student Engagement), Dr. Aaron Garner (Assistant Head for Ethics), and Dr. Sheryl Dykstra (Assistant Head for Outreach).


HouckAs assistant head for undergraduate curriculum, Dr. Houck will lead the department's efforts to pursue curricular coherence and work to identify and develop new courses. He was drawn to the position because he believes it will help “our students become the best chemists that they can be.” He plans to achieve this goal by expanding options within the curriculum by working to identify ways to link knowledge between courses and exploring “big ideas” in chemistry that can be carried through the curriculum. He also plans to work to expand options within the curriculum by working with other departments to offer their 400-level courses as chemistry elective credits.


MastersDr. Masters will work to manage and direct student engagement opportunities for undergraduates, which include research, internships, coops, scholarships/awards, student portfolios, and career/grad school workshops. In particular, she hopes to expand research opportunities for first-year students. She explains, “In addition to the freshmen research experience, I plan to create new courses and programs that allow for unique and sustainable student engagements on different levels, including advising, outreach, and interdisciplinary projects. It's an exciting time!” Dr. Masters also plans to work with Dr. Sykes to overhaul undergraduate advising to make it more student-centered. “One important task of this new position is to better support our students through more thoughtful, personal advising and encouraging students to engage in a variety of opportunities,” she notes,  “we need to be better about educating our students on these opportunities.”


GarnerDr. Garner has been named assistant head for ethics. He says he first became interested in the position because of a desire to improve the quality of the undergraduate program. “We do a lot of things really well as a program, but over the past couple of years we have identified a number of specific areas where we believe we can improve,” he says, “the new assistant head positions are a way for us to make progress by delegating an individual to lead each of these initiatives.” In his new role, Dr. Garner will lead the department's efforts to pursue the coherent integration of ethics into the chemistry curriculum. He explains, “we want our courses to include a significant and meaningful focus on ethics that improves our students’ ethical judgment and promotes awareness of the ethical consequences that arise from the practice of chemistry.” He says that his goal is to “promote curricular change that will make ethics a central feature of our undergraduate courses.” He adds, “It's important that we work together to ensure consistency and quality in how we approach ethics in our courses so as to send a coherent message to our students.”


DykstraAs assistant head for outreach, Dr. Dykstra will work to promote the chemistry department to raise awareness of the chemistry program among future students. She will manage the program’s social media presence and work to develop content to promote the program. She first became interested in the position after becoming involved with the departmental Website Committee. Dr. Dykstra is eager to reinvigorate the department’s promotional efforts. “I anticipate working very hard to use our web presence and social media to advertise our program better, with the goal of increasing the number of chemistry majors by recruiting higher quality and more diverse students,” she explains, “I anticipate working closely with the college’s recruitment events, travelling to conferences, and interfacing with high schools to promote our major.”


Join the Department of Chemistry in congratulating Dr. Houck, Dr. Masters, Dr. Garner, and Dr. Dykstra on their new positions.



Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University

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