Shimizu has passion for chemistry and teaching

Linda Shimizu fell in love with science at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, but she fell in love with teaching as a grad assistant at MIT.

The University of South Carolina chemistry professor has been named the 2016 Mungo undergraduate teacher of the year – one of the university’s most prestigious teaching awards.

Shimizu has taught the large lecture classes of organic chemistry for students majoring in biology, pharmacy, chemistry, engineering, public health and those planning to go to medical school as well as smaller classes for chemistry and biochemistry majors. Some of her students have even gone on to law school where their organic chemistry studies have helped in work like patent law.

“Science is learning to ask the right questions and framing those questions so you can find an answer,” Shimizu says, adding that she originally planned to be a political science major until an undergraduate chemistry class changed her mind.

“Organic chemistry is very much an experimental science,” she says. “We come up with plausible explanations and then test them to see if they are true.”

Instead of finding absolute answers, she says, organic chemists mostly rule out possibilities while discovering new questions to be answered.

It is this love of constant learning that she hopes to pass along to her students.

“Organic chemistry is often the first class students encounter that they cannot ‘cram’ for,” she says. “I try to get them to approach it like a language course: Practice every day.”

Shimizu’s teaching goes beyond the classroom. Like most researchers, she mentors graduate students and includes undergrads and high school students in her summer projects, but Shimizu also goes into local high schools to interest younger students in science.

“Bringing demonstrations into the classroom immediately engages a student’s curiosity,” Shimizu says. “It gives them a tangible connection to the material they are learning.”

The chemistry department’s outreach program has reached more than 17,000 South Carolina schoolchildren through visits to elementary, middle and high schools since 2001.

“What singles Linda out from among all of the excellent teachers on our faculty is the outreach program she has established to bring graduate and undergraduate students to K-12 schools,” says John Dawson, chair of the chemistry department. “An important aspect of this program in terms of our undergraduates is that it places them in a leadership role, where they are the ones actively teaching and expressing their enthusiasm about science, higher education and chemistry to younger students.”

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