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Chemistry Professor's Grant Gives Claremont High Chemistry Teacher Chance to Improve Her Curriculum

While many people relax on their summer vacation, Claremont High School teacher Cheryl Peauroi has spent the summer in a Pomona College chemistry lab conducting research on the anti-tumor agent epoxyquinol, which inhibits the formation of blood vessels in tumors. Working with Pomona College senior Celeo “Danny” Solis, she updated her lab skills, studying and synthesizing new organic compounds, conducting computational analysis and using NMR spectroscopy.

The research opportunity for Peauroi came from Daniel J. O'Leary, an associate professor of chemistry at Pomona College, who received a $105,000 grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Scholar/Fellow Program for Undergraduate Institutions that included a supplement for mentoring a local teacher. Having heard wonderful things about Peauroi from students and their parents, he asked her to participate.

Peauroi, who has taught at CHS for three years, majored in molecular biology as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Riverside, and enjoyed being back in the lab. “It was good professional development,” said Peauroi who likes to keep busy during the summer months. “It allowed me to participate in current research and to experience the college environment. It also let me know how I need to prepare my students. I was impressed with how experienced Danny and the other students are in the lab.” The experience also enabled her to make contacts throughout the school’s chemistry faculty.

Peauroi’s goal is to use the knowledge and skills gained this summer to enhance her students learning. As an added bonus, the grant provides $1,000 for curriculum development supplies, “almost triple the normal funding particularly in the face of budget cuts every year,” explains an elated Peauroi. “Chemicals for 180 students per day in lab get expensive.” She also hopes that at least some of her students will be able to visit Pomona for themselves and get experience with NMR spectroscopy, gas chromotography or other equipment. “I have a lot of students that would love that kind of challenge.”

For O’Leary, the grant provided the opportunity to gain insight into high school science education. “It’s been really illuminating for me to learn about the constraints and limitations faced at the high school level, he says. “From all I hear, she’s doing a wonderful job. And it’s clear to me after working with her, why students change their schedules to take her classes.”

Solis, the senior who worked with Peauroi, also learned a great deal from their relationship. “She’s definitely different from my high school teachers,” he says with a grin. “It’s cool to see a science teacher I can relate to, someone closer to my own age.” Solis, who is an American Chemical Society scholar and has taught in an Upward Bound program, is considering teaching as a career option. “She’s got a lot of great ideas about how to interest students including an October ‘Spooktacular,’ where they catch things on fire to spark student interest in chemistry … I’ve learned a lot about kids and teaching from talking to her.”

In the lab, Solis and Peauroi are developing new methods for detecting hydrogen bonds, with the ultimate goal of to providing other chemists with a "chemical ruler" for measuring the strength of hydrogen bonds. In collaboration with researchers at Boston University, their method has already been applied to studies of a promising new anti-tumor drug, epoxyquinol.

O’Leary joined Pomona’s faculty in 1994 and teaches courses in organic chemistry, chirality, organic synthesis, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy at Pomona College. He focuses his research on developing new methods for determining the solution conformation of molecules and has involved many students in his work. Students in his laboratory synthesize target compounds designed to mimic motifs found in nature.

Since arriving at Pomona, O’Leary has received two Pomona Wig Distinguished Professor Awards for excellence in teaching, which are determined by a vote of the junior and senior classes; and the college’s 2004 Irvine Distinguished Faculty Fellowship for his exceptional work as a mentor and advisor to students of color, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and first-generation college students. His work with students was also recognized with the 1999 Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award based on accomplishments in scholarly research with undergraduates, as well as a compelling commitment to teaching. In addition to working with Pomona students, O’Leary serves on the American Chemical Society’s Scholars Program committee, which provides financial support and mentoring to more than 1,200 minority students interested in chemistry.

Pomona College is one of the nation's premier liberal arts institutions, offering a comprehensive program in the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Its hallmarks include small classes, close relationships between students and faculty, and a range of opportunities for student research.