Garnet Apple winner: Micky Myrick
Chemistry professor transforms laboratory course
By Chris Horn, email@example.com, 803-777-3687
Two things you should know about chemistry professor Micky Myrick: He doesn’t shy away from a challenging task even if there’s little reward in it, and once he has committed to something, he’s in it for the long haul.
In 1999, Myrick asked the chemistry department for the opportunity to teach the two-semester laboratory sequence for physical chemistry, a mandatory set of courses for chemistry majors. In the 10 years prior, teaching responsibility for the lab components of the course had been passed around like a hot potato among other faculty members, and the reason was simple. Teaching an undergraduate lab doesn’t count toward the instructor’s teaching load at most universities, so the task holds little allure.
Myrick was already a tenured associate professor at the time with a successful research track record and other teaching responsibilities, but he saw an opportunity to add value to a neglected course.
“If there is any benefit to be gained for a student in attending a research-active university, it is access to the latest equipment, modern methods and research faculty. A good laboratory course demands all this and more,” he says.
With that in mind, Myrick set about transforming the physical chemistry laboratory courses. He started by gradually revamping all of the experiments and writing a comprehensive lab manual to help students navigate through the lab courses with minimal confusion. Then he systematically overhauled how the course was taught.
“One year I made it my mission to create good PowerPoint slides for our recitations; another year I recorded all the recitations in webcast format and another year was dedicated to exploring the different applications we have for statistics of many types,” he says.
If there is any benefit to be gained for a student in attending a research-active university, it is access to the latest equipment, modern methods and research faculty. A good laboratory course demands all this and more.
As the years have gone by — Myrick, now the department’s most senior professor, has logged 42 consecutive semesters teaching the physical chemistry labs — he has come up with more ideas for improvement.
“Over that time, he’s developed almost a dozen new laboratory experiments from scratch, published four articles in the Journal of Chemical Education and has developed an extensive online presence for the course,” says Ken Shimizu, a professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “The P-chem lab is routinely cited as one of the most difficult but also one of the most valuable training experiences our undergraduate majors receive.”
Because of their increased rigor, the lab courses now earn students two credit hours instead of one. And because of the integrative nature of the courses, the College of Arts and Sciences allows chemistry and biochemistry majors to count the labs as satisfying the information literacy requirements for the Carolina Core curriculum.
Myrick has been a steady advocate for better equipment in the teaching labs, a request facilitated by lab fee instituted years ago by then-chemistry department chair Jerry Odom. In recent years, that has paved the way for more than $400,000 in new equipment, exposing students to state-of-the-art instruments that they’ll likely encounter later when working in industrial labs.
“When people graduate from our program, they’re going to know how to think about chemistry problems and understand basic theory. But they’re not going to have the hands-on skills unless they have good quality labs,” Myrick says. “We don’t want them showing up in labs in their first jobs and saying, ‘Wow, what is this stuff?’”
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