Chemist named top educator in Oregon

The College of Science warmly congratulates senior instructor of chemistry Richard Nafshun for receiving the 2017 Outstanding Educator in Science and Mathematics, Higher Education Award by the Oregon Academy of Science for his impressive teaching achievements.

The award promotes merit in education by recognizing faculty who have made an extraordinary impact in their fields. Academy officials say that award winners serve as inspirational leaders to members of the Oregon Academy of Science, and embody the core values of serving students and advancing science for the common good.

Nafshun teaches highly popular undergraduate and graduate as well as online  chemistry courses. These run the gamut from general chemistry classes for freshmen to a graduate course in non-traditional instructional techniques. He is the director of the graduate mentor program in chemistry, where he works with doctoral students who are interested in pursuing careers as professors. This is a unique program which promotes best teaching practices and provides a practicum experience for future college faculty.

After earning his Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at Oregon State in 1996, Nafshun accepted a job in industry. But he was driven by a deep desire to teach and work on projects in a collaborative, spirited and interactive atmosphere. Within a year, he returned to OSU to teach and do research, and has remained in academia ever since.

In an interview with the American Chemistry Society, Nafshun said, “I value the collaborative aspect highly. When I was doing my research work in industry…. some of the research was interesting and involved discovery, and we’d have periodic meetings with the group, but otherwise it was a very independent experience, and I didn’t enjoy it.”

“Here in academia, in contrast, I’m always interacting with hundreds of young people, colleagues, and graduate students. To me, it feels much more interesting and alive,” Nafshun added.

Nafshun’s impact as an educator is also evident in the online chemistry courses offered by Ecampus at OSU. Now a thriving program of 20 online high-quality college-level chemistry courses and labs that attract students from around the world, it has achieved great heights since 2001 when Nafshun taught the first online General Chemistry course with just four students. To date, Nafshun estimates he has instructed more than 40,000 chemistry students.

In response to a need for better quality virtual lab instruction materials—initially provided by an outside vendor—Nafshun and his colleagues, chemistry professors Michael Lerner and Mike Schuyler, created OnlineLabs to deliver superior virtual lab software to students and educators online.

They masterminded a way to deliver engaging online chemistry laboratories to college and high school students and educators nationwide. Students and instructors both reported a significant improvement in outcomes as a result of the improved virtual lab experiences.

Nafshun enjoys a legendary reputation on campus for making chemistry unforgettable for his undergraduate students. His class demonstrations in the large-lecture general chemistry class, as he explains in this video, are designed to “grab students’ attention.” Nafshun goes on to elaborate, “We want to use our classroom demonstrations to further student understanding and their learning with chemistry concepts.”

His students speak highly of his general chemistry class. They are inspired by his energy and passion for the subject and find his chemistry demonstrations both engaging and a highly effective learning tool.

An expert in research on chemistry education and how students learn chemistry, Nafshun leads the department’s efforts in the area of effectively utilizing technology in labs, classrooms and online chemistry teaching. He also leads and participates in research collaborations focused on building strong interdisciplinary relationships between chemistry and other STEM subjects and on how students work and learn in small groups and large classroom environments.

Nafshun has won virtually every prestigious teaching award at OSU. A few of his awards include the Loyd Carter Award for Outstanding and Inspirational Teaching, the Frederick H. Horne Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching and the Milton Harris Faculty Teacher of the Year honor.

He holds a bachelor’s in chemistry from California State University Stanislaus and a master’s in science education from Oregon State.

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