Alena Vasquez has been named the Winter 2017 Undergraduate of the Quarter and we couldn’t be happier for her. Alena was born and raised in California until she was 18.  She moved to Oregon because she said, she just “felt it was where she was meant to live.”

She came to Oregon State University to study Veterinary Medicine.  Upon matriculation, Alena discovered that she didn’t really enjoy biology, a major component for her degree program, but she loved Chemistry.  Her first chemistry class, a hybrid 23x online class, she took while living in Eugene; it allowed her to come to campus only once a week in order to do the lab. It was during this class that she developed a close bond with Margie.

It was Margie’s advice that got Alena into research for the first time.  Alena began working in Rich Carter’s lab and within two weeks, she was loving every moment.  She hopes to go on in the future and do something altruistic with her degree that can benefit and help others.

Students like Alena Vasquez are a huge part of what makes our Department so great. We wish her well in the future and hope she finds her altruistic path going forward.

Name: Margie Haak

Area of study: Chemistry Education (although I am a physical chemist by training)

Position title: Senior Instructor II

Why chemistry?: It’s all Mr. Smith’s fault! (Mr. Smith was my high school chemistry teacher) UCLA didn’t have a Pre-med major, so I had to pick something to major in. My thought process was something like this “Well, chemistry was fun, I guess I’ll be a chemistry major.” And then I got sucked in by the beauty of chemistry, especially physical chemistry, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Research focus (in non-science terms) or basic job duties: I teach mostly general chemistry and my interests lie in active learning strategies and ways to increasing student success in general chemistry courses.

One thing that I truly love about my job: The students! Both undergraduate and graduate students. I also love that virtually every day is different – it is NEVER boring.

One interesting/strange factoid about myself: In whatever free time I can find I like to quilt.

Instructors Margie Haak and Paula Weiss will give a seminar titled, “Success GTAs: What Are They and Why Do We Need Them” at the 2014 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, August 3-7 2014 at Grand Valley University in Michigan.


In Fall term 2013 we created the Success GTA position as part of a larger university-wide pilot program focused on increasing student success in first-year courses that historically have high percentages of students earning grades of D or F, or withdrawing from the course (DFW rates).  The fall term enrollment in our three different general chemistry courses (science majors, engineering majors, and majors other than physical sciences) range from 750 to 1200 students and each course has between 3 and 7 lecture sections.

The Success GTAs had several roles in the courses.  They all taught at least one recitation or lab section in their assigned course, half the load of a regular GTA .  In addition they were responsible for identifying and contacting students who were doing poorly in some aspect of the course: not registered for Mastering Chemistry or not completing the Mastering Chemistry assignments, exams scores well below the class median, not attending recitations or labs.  They were also part of the CH 199 courses that were offered to provide extra support to students struggling in general chemistry.

We will present results showing the impact of the Success GTA interventions, discuss the training Success GTAs received prior to the start of fall term classes, and lessons learned from the first year of this program.

Instructors Paula Weiss and Margie Haak will give a seminar titled, “Design and Implementation of General Chemistry Support Course” at the 2014 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, August 3-7, 2014 at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.


We will discuss the design and implementation of a full-year support course to  increase student success in General Chemistry. The course provides support for developing problem-solving skills, effective study skills for chemistry courses, math review, and additional exposure to the chemistry concepts covered in General Chemistry.  In the classroom students are engaged in problem-solving with other students, with guidance from general chemistry faculty and graduate teaching assistants. This presentation will focus on lessons learned in our first year of offering the course and plans for future implementations.

Instructors Margie Haak and Michael Burand will give a lecture on Less Class Time, More Learning at the 2014 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, August 3-7 at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

A hybrid-format general chemistry course for science-majors was implemented in the winter term of 2014. Two sections of approximately 160 students each were included. This course was a “trailer” course insomuch as students began the sequence in the second 10-week term of the academic year. Students in trailer courses have historically been more at risk for poor academic performance.

The format of the course included short, topical videos which were custom-made for this course and were made available to students online. Students were assigned to groups of approximately four for the duration of the term and biweekly class meetings consisted almost exclusively of students working on solving problems within their groups. Generally two faculty members and four teaching assistants were present to assist student groups. Typically some time was reserved at the end of the class periods for student groups (selected at random) to come before the class and present their solution to a problem.

Preliminary data show that students in this hybrid course performed significantly better on exams than historical averages for the traditional lecture format. This result is especially noteworthy given that the students in the hybrid course have only 60% of the class time compared to students in the traditional version of the course. A survey of students’ views regarding this hybrid course format was also conducted and will be discussed.

Undergraduate of the Quarter - Spring 2014
Undergraduate of the Quarter – Spring 2014

Chris Heron has been selected as one of our Undergrads of the Quarter for Spring 2014.  Chris was born in Corvallis, OR.  Prior to coming to OSU, Chris was in the United States Army – serving 3 separate tours in Iraq and was stationed in both Georgia and Colorado – finishing at the rank of Staff Sergeant.  After 7 years in the military, Chris decided to return back to school and enrolled at Columbia Gorge Community College in Hood River for one year.  He then came to Oregon State University as a biology major.  His time as a life sciences major was short lived – once he took Professor Margie Haak’s CH 220 course he was hooked on chemistry. He commented that Margie was an excellent presenter and she stimulated him to think about everything.  Chris also had a wonderful lab course experience in CH 361/362 which he describes as “just fabulous.” He particularly commented that Professor Emile Firpo was “fun and had great energy” and that “you learned a ton” from him.  The labs were key for Chris as it helped the lecture classes really make sense – they made him feel like “now I really get it!”  The P Chem series was really hard, but both Professors Glenn Evans and Wei Kong were great.  He loved Professor Kevin Gable’s dry sense of humor in O Chem.  He has been doing research in Professor David Ji’s lab recently.  Chris describes the research environment as “very inviting and simulating… Professor Ji has been very open with his lab.”  His time at OSU has been supported through the US GI Bill from his military service.  Outside of class, Chris enjoys racing bicycles with the OSU team on campus. This year, he has starting flying with the OSU Flying Club. He hopes to earn his pilot license prior to graduation and become a crop duster.  The FAA now wants crop dusters to have a chemistry background and that job will allow him to get enough hours to achieve his long term goal of being a pilot for a major airline.

Chris comments that OSU has a fabulous chemistry (and science) program and all the faculty are great.  We are honored to have amazing students like Chris as part of our program and we are grateful for his service to our country.  We congratulate Chris on all his achievements to date and we hope he continues to have a wonderful experience at OSU!

If your memory of college includes trying to stay awake in large lecture halls, Cub Kahn has news for you. When he thinks about the future of higher education, he sees hybrids. Forget the cars that combine gas engines and electric motors. These hybrids are the latest in college courses. They enable students to learn via computer with online videos and activities that can be done at home or in the library or coffee shop. Hybrids meet less often in actual classrooms, but when they do, their sessions resemble hands-on workshops where students solve problems and apply their knowledge. Done well, hybrids can improve learning and help students get more mileage out of education.  More…