Boston University chemistry professor Morton Z. Hoffman was presented with the Responsible Care Catalyst Award for 2002 by the American Chemical Association for his work this past year in peer advising in his classes.
“This is a very prestigious award,” Hoffman said. “Chemistry professors from colleges and universities from all over the country are nominated. When they informed me that I had won the award, I was surprised, I was happy and I was overjoyed.”
Hoffman, who teaches the honors freshman classes Chemistry 111 and 112, will be awarded $5,000 in San Diego at the end of the month. The money Hoffman receives will go toward his peer adviser program within his classes. Hoffman will also be asking Dean Dennis Berkey of the College of Arts and Sciences for an additional $5,000 to fund his program.
“With that amount, I can support the program for a year,” Hoffman said.
Funding for the peer adviser program came last year from a $5,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which Berkey then matched.
In his classes, Hoffman has 10 former students tutor his current freshman students. These students meet in workshop groups twice a week, he said.
“My feeling is that it’s very successful because students enjoy working in small groups,” Hoffman said. “There’s a fair amount of enthusiasm for it, and it’s good for the peer leaders.”
He added that the peer leaders can learn even more about the basic concepts of chemistry while they are teaching it to their young pupils.
“It’s very beneficial to their careers,” he said.
Chemistry Department Chairman Thomas Tullius, who nominated Hoffman for the award, said he believes this program helps students understand the difficult concepts of chemistry.
“We’re always working on new ways to teach chemistry,” Tullius said. “We’re always working on new ways to teach chemistry better.”
Hoffman was the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at BU from 1994-97. While he was director, he said ,he “had to ask the question: ‘Are there things that can be done outside the normal things teachers do?’
“I gained an appreciation for the nontraditional approaches while I was director,” he said.
Hoffman said he began pursuing this idea for his classes in 1997, after the Center for Teaching Excellence closed.
Tullius said Hoffman’s program “lets the students learn on their own from these student leaders.”
Tullius said he first heard of the award from a former Boston University graduate student. He said Hoffman’s win was surprising, as this was the first time he was nominated.
“I was very surprised; I’ve done this many times before and you almost never get somebody who wins on the first time,” Tullius said. “It was very exciting to hear it went well.”
Hoffman, along with three other BU scientists over the past couple of years, was previously honored with the Metcalf Award.
“This is the first really big [award], but I expect other ones to follow,” Tullius said.
To support Hoffman’s receiving the award, five of his colleagues wrote letters of recommendation, and another five letters were written by students in the program. President Jon Westling added another letter for Hoffman’s cause.