Biochemistry major Rhea Le ’16 couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a class this semester with President Sean Decatur, who holds a doctoral degree in biophysical chemistry.
Le said she decided to take the seminar despite having already fulfilled her major requirements. The class meets on Monday nights from 7 to 10 p.m. in Cromwell Cottage, the president’s home, which lies just off of Middle Path.
The class, “Case Studies in Protein Structure, Dynamics and Function,” is related directly to the president’s biochemical research. Decatur previously taught iterations of the course while a professor of chemistry at Mount Holyoke College.
Senior chemistry major, Cait Coates, needed an upper-level chemistry seminar to fulfill her graduation requirements, but said the president’s course would have been at top of her list anyway. “Food Chemistry is cool,” Coates said, referring to the only other upper-level chemistry seminar offered this semester. “But it’s a class with the President.”
Contributing to the uniqueness of taking a course with the president is its being held at his residence. “We get snacks … and dogs,” Le said, referring to the president’s two poodle-Shih Tzu mixes, Skittles and Roo.
The course’s enrollment of 10 includes chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology majors, and follows the format of science seminars offered at the 400 level; these seminars require student engagement with primary research papers, and a collaborative classroom effort. Unlike many other natural science courses, Decatur’s seminar does not have a lab component.
“I love teaching upper-level seminars, and especially in courses where students get to dive into the primary literature and have a lot of discussion and back-and-forth about the topics,” Decatur said.
Another student in the class, junior biochemistry major Trevor Manz, decided to take the course to complement his own summer research at The Ohio State University.
“He’s capable of explaining things on a very basic level, and then building off that,” Manz said of Decatur.
While working around his responsibilities as president, Decatur has established himself as a committed teacher. Decatur offers his students remote class meetings by Skype if either their schedules or his own prevent them from meeting in person.
“From what I have heard, the class is tough but really engaging,” Sheryl Hemkin, associate professor of chemistry and chair of the department, said. “So it sounds like a perfect class so far!”
There is a lot to learn from the president, and he says that a devotion to science is absolutely necessary for those taking the class.
“You have to care a lot about hydrogen bonds,” Decatur said.