Validating Her Path: Pauline Stratman

By Colleen Glenn

Pauline Stratman, a teaching assistant in the Department of Chemistry at UK, was recently honored with a 2012 Provost’s Award for Outstanding Teaching. Stratman is athird-year Ph.D. student focusing on biological chemistry.

“I was so excited to win the award.  It was incredible,” said Stratman.

Teaching can be a challenging vocation in any field, but for teachers of tough subjects such as chemistry, the challenges can be double.

“When I tell people that I am a chemist, the response is often a sign of their feelings towards chemistry,” explained Stratman. “Those feelings are often not the most positive ones. Chemistry has a stigma.”

But already as a teaching assistant, Stratman has found a way to reach students.

“I have learned that there are a lot of factors to teaching chemistry that I cannot control, like the students’ attitudes and effort.  I do, however, recognize the factors that I can control,” she said, pointing to her focus on teaching methods.

“When my students ask me questions, I rarely answer those questions in one remark. If you can teach a student which thought pathways will lead them to the answer, they will be more successful.”

Stratman also finds that student-to-student interaction can be as important as teacher-student communication when it comes to learning material.

“It has been shown that the best way to learn something is to teach it. I encourage my students to meet each other and study together outside of class. I encourage talk during the laboratory class.  I try to bring discussion about current scientific advancements and how science can relate to everyday life.”

Without a doubt, Stratman’s easy-going attitude and approachability also add an important dimension to her teaching.“I want all my students to feel completely comfortable coming to me and asking me questions.  I try to make it clear that I am always available to them.”

Looking ahead, Stratman plans to complete her doctorate and pursue a career as a faculty member in chemistry. 

“I have the most interest in education,” she said. “I plan to work at a smaller liberal arts type of college and focus my research towards chemical education.”

But Stratman’s plans do not end there. She also speaks of creating a camp where children would learn about mountaineering and environmental science.

“The campers might be taken out on a hike where they learn about edible plants and take water and soil samples that they later analyze. I would love to get undergraduate students involved as counselors where they would learn more about chemistry and science in general by teaching the campers about it.”

For now, Stratman has her hands full with her Ph.D. work, teaching, and duties as Vice President of the Chemistry Department’s Graduate Student Association. The Provost’s award is just the latest in a series of achievements in her graduate career at UK.

“I really have been able to find my true passion in teaching,” she said. “Winning this award has honored me greatly as well as validated my career choice.”

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