Among the many unfortunate side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was the loss of in-person instruction for most courses at CSUDH. Some fields of study were impacted more than others by this loss, but for students in the chemistry department it was especially troublesome. Because so much chemistry education relies on in-person lab work, most students missed out on vital hands-on experience.
This summer, faculty members of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry decided to do something about it. They created and held a pair of “Chemistry Lab Bootcamps” that were designed to get students up to speed—teaching them all the valuable lab skills they missed during their many months of virtual learning. Over 100 chemistry students took them up on the offer and attended one of the camps.
“We were concerned that students coming into our upper division labs would have possibly had no previous college chemistry lab experience,” says Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kari Pederson, who thought of the idea of the bootcamps and was the driving force behind organizing and setting them up. “The equipment is more expensive, things move faster, you have to be able to work more quickly. If you don’t have those foundational skills, it becomes hard to build on them.”
The department set up two camps–one focused on organic chemistry and one focused on general chemistry. “It’s really about preparing the students to actually be able to work safely in a lab and finish an experiment on time, and know how to work in a lab,” says Pederson “It’s about time management, it’s about coming prepared. Students need to have experience with those kind of things in order to really be ready for upper-division labs.”
Students learned hands-on skills that ranged from accurately measuring mass and volume to creating compounds and purifying them. “They also learned about physical properties of substances, as well as techniques of chemical analysis,” says chemistry lecturer Barbara Belmont, one of the camp’s instructors. “These are part of a fundamental skill set for all chemistry students, and having these camps assures they will be prepared for their in-person Fall 2021 lab courses.”
An unexpected benefit of the camps was helping faculty and staff familiarize themselves with the facilities in the new Science & Innovation Building. Although a handful of lab courses were conducted in the building during the lockdown, “This is basically the first time we’ve operated at even a fraction of capacity,” says Pederson.
“We’ve been doing research in the labs, but we have only taught in one of our new instructional labs. This is the first time we’ve really gotten students into these labs, and it’s actually turned out to be nice for our faculty and technicians, as well,” she adds. “It’s helped us all learn how to prepare for labs in the new building. We’ve only ever conducted labs in our old building, with our old stockroom, with our old setup, so we have had to create a new workflow in the new space.
“It’s turned out to have an added benefit for all of us.”