Adam van Wynsberghe
Adam Van Wynsberghe, assistant professor of chemistry

Man of science Adam Van Wynsberghe was a kid of science whose middle school project in genetics helped point him toward his career path. The assistant professor of chemistry, who came to Hamilton in 2009, is a biophysical chemist with a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Yet as much as Van Wynsberghe loves science, he tries to convince his science-centric students to branch out while they have the chance as undergraduates. He wishes he’d done more of that. Students, it seems, respect what he has to say; last year they successfully nominated him for The John R. Hatch Class of 1925 Excellence in Teaching Award. Here are a few of his thoughts on the subject:

“To be a good teacher you have to relate to people. You have to understand the perspective of the students and work to help them either make their understanding more sophisticated or, in some cases, to alter their understanding if they come in with an idea that is not quite right. But you have to understand where they’re coming from. If you don’t understand what they’re thinking, you can’t help them create a new mode of thinking.”

“Really, it is just sort of simply being considerate to students. Honestly, that goes such a long way. If you treat them with respect, they are much more willing to go along on this journey of learning new things with you. And that’s what you’re really looking for.”

“Micro-moments of the light bulb going on [in students] happen many days. And that’s fun, right? When they are stuck, they are stuck, and then — ‘Oooh, I understand.’ That’s learning in real time, and that’s exciting.”

“The macro-moments come more rarely, and they actually are more subtle. … I have a shelf of little cards from students, and they say these really wonderful things about how, maybe, you gave them confidence [to] go be a graduate student in a chemistry program. Or you were supportive when they realize, in fact, they don’t want to be a doctor, they want to do something else with their life. And you don’t, at least for myself, realize that that’s happening as it’s happening.”

“[It’s posing questions like] ‘Here are some cool things that I’ve come across. Would you like to think about these things?’ And with Hamilton students … they jump on that pretty quickly. Hamilton students come — this is my experience — with this tremendous intellectual curiosity, and that makes my job way easier.”

— Interview and introduction by Maureen A. Nolan

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