In high school, chemistry was the bane of my very existence. I would sit there as my teacher mindlessly droned on and on. Each word he spoke went in one ear and out the other. My focus was always on the clock, never on the material. I realize in hindsight that the problem was in fact me and my lack of attention, not the teacher. So, I decided that in college I would start taking some personal responsibility and pay attention in lectures. I expected that this would allow me to succeed in the class, but not necessarily enjoy the material. Surprisingly, I was wrong.
The first chemistry class you will likely take is General Chemistry I. This class is mostly a review of high school chemistry, but you do go into more depth. I found the material to not be too challenging and, in fact, somewhat interesting, but what really hooked me were the labs. Every other week you have a required lab section for this class. In high school (or at least in mine), labs meant watching the teacher perform an experiment from afar. In college, labs mean you get to perform an experiment up-close. And the experiments you perform seem much more applicable to your surrounding environment. For example, in one experiment we made chalk using calcium chloride and sodium carbonate. We also were sometimes given an objective and told to create our own experiment to reach this objective. These labs helped us understand the material we were learning and brought us one step closer to the real world of lab science.
Despite General Chemistry I being mostly a review, there are some new difficult concepts to learn. For this reason, I found myself going to Supplemental Instruction (SI) sessions often. These sessions are led by another undergraduate student who has taken the class before and succeeded. Being that these instructors are students as well, they are able to break down the material in a way that is much more understandable. And in attending these sessions, I realized that chemistry is not some foreign language. It’s actually a portal to understanding the inner-workings of everything in our world. This was what really interested me. I was inspired by my SI Instructors and decided to become a Peer-Led Team Leader for chemistry. Peer-Led Team Learning is a new program at UMass where Peer Leaders, such as myself, teach small group tutoring sessions in chemistry. I hope to inspire students in my sessions to like chemistry in the same way I was inspired by those who taught me.
I’m currently taking Organic Chemistry I. This class strikes fear into the hearts of pre-health students everywhere. However, it seems to me so far that if you pay attention and find help from the many places its available, it’s easy to succeed. In conclusion, I recommend that in college you throw all preconceived notions of what you like and don’t like out the window. Give everything a chance, and maybe you’ll find something unexpected that you really love.