Professor Philip Bevilacqua Receives Priestley Teaching Prize

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19 April 2019

Congratulations to Professor Philip Bevilacqua, who is this year’s recipient of the The Priestley Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching in Chemistry.

The Priestley Prize was established in 2002 to recognize the best undergraduate teachers in the Department of Chemistry, as measured by the increase in learning and enthusiasm for the subject of the students in chemistry courses.

Dr. Bevilacqua was recognized for teaching Chem 110B, a course he developed with Dr. Aaron Garner, Assistant Teaching Professor at Penn State.

Dr. Bevilacqua and Dr. Garner were inspired to develop the course in the hopes that it would make chemistry more interesting to students in the life sciences and show them how chemistry can be useful in their fields.

“I want them to realize that chemistry is interesting and can be used to solve important problems,”  Dr. Bevilacqua explains, “no matter what they go on to do.”

To that end, Dr. Bevilacqua set out to create a comfortable and welcoming classroom environment that would encourage questions and inspire students to delve further into chemistry.

“I try to be approachable,” he adds, “I encourage the students to ask questions and come to office hours; I want them to know I’m on their side.”

The students of Chem 110B responded to this approach. In fact, many of them enjoyed the class so much that they nominated Dr. Bevilacqua for the Priestly Prize.  Dr. Bevilacqua notes that, to him, this recognition from the students is the most meaningful part of receiving the Prize.

“I was moved by the student comments,” he says, “I didn’t realize until then how much the students appreciated the course and the positive climate.”

In their comments, many students also praised the use of technology in the course. Dr. Bevilacqua incorporated many electronic resources, including a series of YouTube videos that explored the topics discussed in class in more depth. With the support of a Tombros Fellowship, Dr. Bevilacqua first began experimenting with incorporating electronic learning resources several years ago while teaching Chem 110H, the honors version of the class. He was eager to bring these teaching strategies to more students when he began teaching Chem 110B.

Closed Captioning

Dr. Bevilacqua with the LAs who worked on the closed captioning project. From left to right: Emily Kim, Dr. Bevilacqua, Isabel Fridenberg, and Ellie Alberti

Dr. Bevilacqua also hopes that adding technology to the course will enhance the experience for students with disabilities. During the Fall 2018 semester, a student with a hearing impairment signed up for Chemistry 110B. To make the YouTube videos used in the class accessible, Dr. Bevilacqua and four Learning Assistants—Isabel Friedenberg, Ellie Alberti, Emily Kim, Madelynn Holderman—learned how to add closed captions to the videos.

Dr. Bevilacqua explains that learning about accessibility was an eye-opening experience, “One of the things I’ve learned,” he says, “is that by making the course more accessible, it makes it better for everyone.  Many students benefited from the closed captioning!” He adds, “I was at the ACS meeting recently, and I noticed a banner that celebrated chemists with disabilities. Joseph Priestley—the namesake of the award—was highlighted; he had a speech disability. And I thought to myself that it was fitting that my class had a focus on accessibility last semester.”

In the future, Dr. Bevilacqua hopes to continue developing strategies to enrich undergraduate chemistry education. As the head of the Department of Chemistry, he plans to explore ways to transfer some of these approaches to other courses in the department.

Maria Landschoot

Communications Coordinator

Department of Chemistry

Penn State University

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