Oyinda Oyelaran is a teaching professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in the College of Science at Northeastern University. She never expected to be a teacher. Oyelaran was always of the opinion that she would put her love of organic chemistry to use outside of academia. Maybe as a pharmacist or a researcher at a biomedical company. Her views changed completely once she had to mentor an undergraduate student doing an internship at the National Cancer Institute, where she was s a postdoctoral fellow. Oyelaran says that the increase in maturity and the growth she saw in as a scientist in the student was really gratifying for her. That was the spark that made her think seriously about teaching.
Oyelaran says she approaches teaching organic chemistry the same way one might teach a foreign language. This is because the subject is so dense with complex concepts and specialised language. You learn a new language by immersing yourself in it completely. Then you practice it and try speaking with other people. It is all-consuming and that guides how she presents different topics. She also acknowledges that the subjects she teaches can seem, well, really hard.
“Organic chemistry has a reputation as being this ridiculously hard, impossible subject. Removing that notion, and helping students see their own ability, helping them enjoy a sense of achievement is what drives the amount of effort I put into mentoring my students”, she says.
Oyelaran was selected as one of two faculty members to receive Northeastern University’s Excellence in Teaching Award this year. Nominations for the award are made by students, who consider several criteria: the faculty members’ depth of knowledge in the subject; their ability to provide effective links among course content, research, and experiential learning; and the rigor of the course content.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman