'Extraordinary teacher' of chemistry receives Chancellor's Award


Students and colleagues rave about Dr. Martha D. Bruch’s ability to make chemistry fun, hands-on and understandable in and outside her SUNY Oswego classroom, and the State University of New York system has recognized her talents through a 2010-11 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Martha Bruch.Bruch, associate professor of chemistry at SUNY Oswego and director of its Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Laboratory, received an outpouring of support for the award in the form of letters of nomination from fellow faculty members, past and present students, local secondary and elementary school teachers and students, and even an industrial scientist with whom she has worked frequently since coming to the college in 1998.

Ellen Schneider, a former student of Bruch’s and now a Marcellus High School chemistry teacher, praised Bruch’s generous gifts of time and talent in classrooms around the region.

“From a pedagogical standpoint, Dr. Bruch is an excellent teacher,” Schneider wrote. “However, there is more to her that makes her exceptional. It is what she does outside the lecture hall that truly makes Dr. Bruch an extraordinary teacher.”

Students first

A dozen letters of nomination tout Bruch’s generous and motivating spirit, with examples including:

* Liberal office hours that extended, in one instance, to several hours with a student on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, according to Dr. Joseph LeFevre, a SUNY Oswego chemistry professor and past recipient of the award. “She is always willing to go the extra mile in helping her students, whether it is in the form of extra office hours or review sessions for tests,” LeFevre wrote. “Clearly, she wants her students to succeed and she makes herself available to this end.”

* Repeated visits to off-campus classrooms, such as those at Leighton Elementary School. Wendy Ballard, a fifth-grade teacher there, said Bruch pays four or five visits to Ballard’s classroom a year. “She has a passion for chemistry that shines through in her teaching,” Ballard wrote.

* Going well beyond standard advisement to assist students, past and present, in moving forward in their lives and careers. Current master’s in teaching chemistry student Joy Logan wrote, “Dr. Bruch goes above and beyond her responsibilities in helping me develop my academic resume. She frequently invites me to participate in demonstrations for school children.”

Everyday examples

“I am honored my colleagues nominated me,” Bruch said. “It really was really their hard work that got this done. I also owe a tremendous amount to Ken Hyde, recently retired Distinguished Teaching Professor (of chemistry), who helped me in the early stages of my career, and I am grateful to him for his inspiration.”

Besides general chemistry, Bruch teaches quantum chemistry, math-heavy physical chemistry and a course in using the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Laboratory and analyzing spectrometer results. Students in all of those courses lavished praise on Bruch and her demonstrations and other teaching methods.

“Personally, physical chemistry was very difficult for me,” wrote former student Andrew M. Camelio, now a first-year graduate student in organic chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, “but I was successful in the class because Dr. Bruch used examples and relationships to help me understand the material better. The ability to teach a student better than a textbook can is the true art and role of a teacher, and Martha Bruch exemplifies this perfectly.”

Everyday examples, analogies and the uses of chemistry were themes repeated among nominators. They cited Bruch’s patience in showing a senior capstone student how to use the NMR instrument, her annual “Halloween Magic” chemistry show and more.

“Dr. Bruch has the ability to inspire her students,” LeFevre wrote. “Teaching chemistry in a creative way to a sometimes initially unreceptive audience takes a special talent. The talent itself is like a magic trick, opening hearts and minds of students to the joys of chemistry.”

LeFevre also pointed out that Bruch, who earned her doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Delaware, has 36 scholarly publications in her career—including three with Oswego student co-authors.

(Posted: May 27, 2011)

Tags: research news: faculty honors, chemistry, chancellor's award, bruch