- Problem solving skills. Students should be able to define problems clearly, develop testable hypotheses, design and execute experiments, analyze data, and draw appropriate conclusions. Ideally, this process will utilize a holistic integration of the chemical sub-disciplines. Students should use the appropriate lab skills and instrumentation to solve problems, while understanding the fundamental uncertainties in experimental measurements.
- Chemical literature skills. Students should be able to use the peer-reviewed scientific literature effectively and evaluate technical articles critically. They should be able to retrieve information using the state-of-the-art abstracting services, such as SciFinder Scholar. Integrating the use of these skills into several courses and independent research projects is necessary to fully develop these particular skills and develop the ‘habit of mind.'
- Laboratory safety skills. Students need to learn and understand the concepts of safe laboratory practices. Students should learn and understand safe disposal techniques, understand and comply with safety regulations, understand and use material safety data sheets (MSDS) and recognize and minimize potential chemical and physical hazards in the laboratory.
- Communication skills. Our curriculum provides students with multiple venues to develop written and speaking skills in an environment that provides iterative feedback from professors. Students should be able to present information in a clear and organized manner, write well organized and concise reports in a scientifically appropriate style, and use appropriate technology such as poster presentation software, word-processing, and chemical structure drawing programs, and computerized presentations in their communication. Our majors should also be able to organize, orally present, and write a senior thesis of 35-45 pages in length.
- Team skills. Students should be able to work effectively in a group to solve scientific problems, be effective leaders as well as effective team members, and interact productively with a diverse set of peers. Our curriculum incorporates team experiences in the classroom and 43 laboratory, and some faculty utilize a team-based approach in independent research projects.
- Ethics. Ethical scientific behavior is an intentional part of our introductory curriculum and is carried forward in upper-division coursework and in independent research activities. We also aim to have our students be aware of the place of chemistry in contemporary societal and global issues. This latter aspect is accomplished via course work, travel to professional meetings, and via our on-campus seminar series.
Measuring achievement of learning goals
Our senior thesis capstone exercise is a wonderful way for students to demonstrate proficiency/awareness with/of many of the above-described skills. Students who can integrate these skills and demonstrate true independence and innovation in their research efforts are awarded top marks for their thesis work. We work hard to avoid grade inflation in this process, so that we can gauge the ‘success' of one student versus another. Indeed, each senior thesis project often garners 15 minutes worth of focused faculty conversation which is directed at many of the skills described above. Some of our highest achieving students are able to publish their findings in professional faculty-peer-reviewed journals. This criterion adds a further element to our ‘scale' for gauging success as we work to help students realize their potential in the chemical sciences.
The senior thesis allows us to critically examine each student as they leave Pomona, but the greater question of ‘success' is whether or not our majors succeed when they move to their next destination. For students majoring in chemistry, this is usually graduate school or medical school. Many of our students matriculate directly to these programs, although some students decide to pursue 1-2 year fellowships or 1-2 year stints in industry prior to moving on to graduate or medical school.
The assessment of senior theses takes place as follows: two readers read the thesis and provide the student with their written evaluations. The student then uses their input to revise his/her thesis and submits one final, bound copy of the thesis as well as the two previously submitted copies with the readers' comments to the coordinator of the thesis on the sixth Monday after the spring break. The bound copy becomes the permanent archival copy. The faculty then meet as a group and each primary reader makes a brief presentation on each thesis. The primary and secondary readers each make the case for a particular preliminary grade. After the faculty presentations are concluded, the preliminary grades are either agreed upon or they are adjusted in light of the group discussion. Students who have been exceptional in their senior thesis research and writing are awarded distinction. One criterion we try to meet in awarding distinction is whether or not portions of the thesis is publishable on its own. In a typical year, 1-3 students out of 10-15 majors are awarded distinction for their thesis.