Leaving lab research for the classroom

Chemistry professor explores how teaching methods impact students

Professor Rekha Srinivasan, better known by her students as Dr. Sri, has been teaching at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) since 2005. She is the James Stephen Swinehart, Ph.D. Professional Teaching Fellow in Chemistry and a senior instructor in the department.

Her research focuses on the ways of teaching chemistry and biochemistry. In her time at CWRU, she has performed several research projects on education and how different teaching tools can impact the way students learn. Her research is dependent on grants on campus, such as the Nord Foundation Grants.

“I feel like I am a part of the university community and not somebody who is isolated in the lab,” said Dr. Sri. “I’m a faculty advisor for the Women in Science and Engineering Roundtable (WISER) [as well as other organizations]…I’m even cooking for the Ethnic Eats group the Sunday after Thanksgiving.”

Dr. Sri said that her passion is in undergraduate teaching and advising. Even though she is given a list of students to advise from the department, she emphasized that her door is open to any student who wants to talk about studying chemistry.

Dr. Sri decided to follow a career in teaching instead of a tenured research position at a university, even though she appreciated doing chemistry research based on peptides and Alzheimer’s disease as she worked toward her Ph.D.

After completing her degree, she knew that a teaching career would make her truly happy and realized that she “connected to [a college-age] group much better than any other.”

“My job is a teaching job, so the only research I do is for education; it’s been on and off, depending on whether I have funding,” Dr. Sri said. “I did a project called Bridging Chemistry where we tried to bridge concepts from general chemistry to organic chemistry, which is what I do [when teaching Principles of Chemistry II]. I try to showcase these concepts as not being isolated concepts but that they are something that you continue to learn.”

Dr. Sri has taught nine courses since the beginning of her career at CWRU, and is currently teaching Principles of Chemistry II for the first time. She says that while she knows the concepts, teaching the course forces her to try and connect concepts and think about them in different ways so she can help students better learn the material.

After teaching so many courses, some meant for chemistry majors and others meant for those in various engineering fields, Dr. Sri has learned how to get students to engage with the lab work and the course information. She tries to pick experiments that would make sense to the students when it comes to their chosen career paths, and helps them to connect, saying “you can hook students in” through things they can relate to their own fields.

“When you learn something with the intention of taking an exam or getting through a course, the purpose becomes lost … science is meant to be spread and expressed [to others],” Dr. Sri said. “The more I teach, the better I understand [the concepts] and can look at them from different angles.”