Dr. Tom Goodwin will be retiring this spring after a long career in chemistry and undergraduate research at Hendrix College. What does it take to build a legacy of student research at a PUI? Dr. Goodwin shares his story…
My Hendrix Odyssey
In my sophomore year, a new chemistry professor invited me to join his first research group in an analytical chemistry study of the water of rivers and lakes. I worked with him for three summers and three full academic years.
I was the first person in my family to attend college. I had no idea what I wanted to study or what my career objectives were. A friend had gone to the same university a year before and he was pre-med, so in my first year I took the same courses that he had taken. In my sophomore year, a new chemistry professor invited me to join his first research group in an analytical chemistry study of the water of rivers and lakes. I worked with him for three summers and three full academic years. Weekdays would find us in the lab; weekends would find us by the rivers or in a sampling boat on the lakes. This was a transformative experience for me. I enjoyed the great outdoors, I enjoyed the camaraderie, but most of all I enjoyed the educational experience of the scientific method in action. I was hooked on science, and the map for my career trajectory was thereby fixed. I wanted to spend my life on a college campus, blending excellence in the classroom with engaged learning for my students through hands-on research.
I was hooked on science, and the map for my career trajectory was thereby fixed.
After graduate school and a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry, a short stint in Signal Officers Basic Training at Fort Gordon, Georgia (a by-product of my four years in Army ROTC), a postdoctoral fellowship, a rather brief sojourn at Conoco Chemicals (They were nice, I was successful, but a fish out of water), and two years in a non-tenure track teaching and research position at Texas A & M University, I was fortunate to land a tenure track appointment at Hendrix College in my home state where my wife and I had strong family roots. That was in August, 1978. At that time, Hendrix enjoyed a reputation for attracting excellent students and providing them with an outstanding liberal arts education, and the department of chemistry was strong.
Dr. Goodwin invited me to participate in a couple of experiments synthesizing precursors to possible anti-malaria compounds. Within two weeks, I was enamored with the process of research and the possibility of discovery…I am indebted to him for opening a doorway to discovery and an extraordinarily exciting research career. ~Dr. Kevin Raney, M. D. – Former student, Chair of the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
The science facilities, however, were aging and there was little externally-funded, collaborative basic research with undergraduates that was aimed toward publication in peer-reviewed journals. In fact, undergraduate research had been actively discouraged by some administrators in the past. Nonetheless, I was firmly committed to starting a research program and the current administration and my colleagues were supportive although there was no research reassigned time, no start-up funds (oh, I got maybe $250), and no technical support staff. I wrote two proposals (Research Corporation and the American Chemical Society-Petroleum Research Fund), and both were funded. In my first full summer at Hendrix, I had four undergraduate research students. Now, let us fast forward by 14 years.
I was firmly committed to starting a research program and the current administration and my colleagues were supportive although there was no research reassigned time, no start-up funds (oh, I got maybe $250), and no technical support staff.
In 1993, the Departments of Chemistry and Physics at Hendrix were granted a radically transformative $600,000 five-year Department Development Award from Research Corporation, which was matched 2:1 by the College. As Principal Investigator on that award, I was pleased that funding was available to provide a new tenure track appointment in both departments, technical support staff, matching money for research instrumentation, and mentoring from four external consultants and a Research Corporation Program Director who visited at least once a year for the duration of the grant. There was truly a systemic reformation as well as a renaissance in Chemistry and Physics which had a ripple effect across the sciences and eventually across the entire college.
“Dr. Goodwin created a fun and captivating organic chemistry environment with his infamous humor and wit. But he most affected me personally by being one of my first, and longest, scientific mentors…Dr. Goodwin showed me that mentorship of undergraduates not only happens while they are undergraduates, but extends throughout life. ..a model that I strive to emulate in my career. ~ Dr. Christina Cooley, Assistant Professor, Trinity University
We also got a ton of national recognition and publicity. In 1993, I was also President of the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR), a founding Editor for the CUR Quarterly, and Chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Heterocyclic Compounds. Now let us fast forward by 10 years. By 2003, thanks in no small measure to the Research Corporation Department Development Award, there were the following advancements:
- two new buildings completed in 2000, one for the physical sciences and one for the life sciences;
- all faculty members in the Departments of Chemistry and Physics were research active
- all of the Chemistry and Physics faculty had research as 25% of their teaching assignment (50% for new faculty for the first year) and this policy was extended to include the Biology Department
- competitive start-up funding to support the research of new faculty members
- 44 student research presentations at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR)
- routine sabbaticals in the seventh year (for the first time), a practice that extended to the entire campus
- a new campus-wide emphasis on engaged learning…see the following post.
There was truly a systemic reformation as well as a renaissance in Chemistry and Physics which had a ripple effect across the sciences and eventually across the entire college.
Also in 2003, the President of Hendrix appointed a task force to formulate a major curricular initiative focused on engaged (experiential, hands-on) learning, and I was asked to chair the task force. For two years about 10 faculty members, two students, and the Provost worked diligently to develop a proposal to present to the students, the faculty, the administration and the Board of Trustees. That proposal led to what was named “The Odyssey Program” (or more formally Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning.”) For the first three years of this program, I was the Chair of the Committee on Experiential Learning which worked with the Director of the Odyssey Program to oversee the implementation and management of the program, including making funding decisions on student and faculty proposals. Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning has now become an integral part of the Hendrix curriculum and a defining ethos of the institution, thus distinguishing Hendrix as a national leader for engaged learning. Since 2005, Hendrix has awarded $3,523,911 to 1,089 Odyssey projects supporting 2,545 students and 243 faculty members. A significant portion of these funds has been used to fund collaborative student/faculty research in all disciplines across the campus.
“…39 years and 148 research students later, and still enthusiastic about research as one of the very best ways to teach science.”
A lot has changed at Hendrix since 1978. I’m still here, 39 years and 148 research students later, and still enthusiastic about research as one of the very best ways to teach science.
My Experiences in Mentoring Undergraduate Research
I am in my element on a college campus. It is a pleasure and a blessing to teach and to learn from our wonderful students. I can’t imagine being happy in my job without research. I want my students to view me not only as an excellent science teacher, but also as an excellent scientist. I work closely with my research students and try to find a good balance between supervision and independence. A major theme in all of our research and in our teaching labs is the practice of green (environmentally benign) chemistry. All of my research students give at least one research presentation at a national meeting, usually the ACS spring national meeting. If the student starts research early enough in her/his time at Hendrix, three or four regional or national presentations can result. Six of my students presented research posters in spring 2016 at the ACS National Meeting in San Diego. Eight of my students will present posters in April, 2017 at the National ACS Meeting in
San Francisco. The majority of my research students also are co-authors on at least one peer-reviewed paper published in a professional journal. Almost all of my research students go on to graduate school in chemistry/biochemistry or to medical school or another health-related professional school. Recently I have whimsically named my lab the International House of Chemistry (IHOC) due to the diverse make-up of the group from 2014-to the present: International Students–1 Zimbabwe, 1 El Salvador, 3 Rwanda; ethnic Americans—1 African American, 1 Mexico, 1 Vietnam, 2 India, 1 German/Scottish, 1 “European”/Cherokee, 1 German/Irish, 1 Scotch-Irish, 1 Lebanon, 1 Korea (7 women, 9 men).
I can’t imagine being happy in my job without research. I want my students to view me not only as an excellent science teacher, but also as an excellent scientist.
Sadly, this will be my last year at Hendrix College; I will be retired as of May 31. I will miss the students immensely, but I think it’s time. I have been greatly blessed with fantastic students and colleagues.
Dr. Goodwin inspired me in the classroom and also as a scientist….He is clearly the roots of a tree that has grown tall and broad through the impactful work many of students have performed. ~Dr. John C. Byrd, M.D. – Former Student, Ohio State University medical center
~ Dr. Tom Goodwin is the Elbert L. Fausett Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Dr. Goodwin is the 2003 Carnegie/Case U.S. Professor of the Year (for baccalaureate colleges), 2010 CUR Fellows awardee, and a former CUR president. He will retire this May 2017 after a 39 year career at Hendrix.