posted April 15, 2010

Jason Gillmore Receives Faculty Development Award from NSF

Dr. Jason G. Gillmore of the Hope College chemistry faculty has received an award of more than $500,000 through the "Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program" of the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a multi-faceted project intended to shape learning and teaching at Hope and beyond.

The CAREER awards are for new faculty members pursuing academic careers involving both research and education.  The NSF's goal is to enhance science education in the United States by supporting the early development of outstanding beginning professors in the sciences, mathematics and engineering.

The $549,000, five-year award is the largest single research grant ever to an individual member of the Hope faculty.  More extensive support has been to collaborative teams of faculty members, as was the case with two awards of $1.2 million received from the NSF for projects this past fall.

"Dr. Gillmore's grant is extremely significant for many reasons," said Dr. Moses Lee, who is dean for the natural and applied sciences and a professor of chemistry at Hope.

"First, given that only about 15 percent of NSF CAREER proposals are funded, this is a tremendously competitive process, and only the best and most compelling proposals are funded. Dr. Gillmore's work is in the top-echelon of projects deemed fundable by NSF, and the award raises his stature as a scientist and it brings significant recognition to Hope College," Lee said.  "It also helps to nudge the Natural & Applied Sciences Division toward the uncharted academic excellence as part of our Vision 20/20 plan."

"Second, the grant does not only provides significant support for his research program, it enables Dr. Gillmore's plan to positively impact the learning by students and postdoctoral fellows, especially toward training the latter group of becoming professors as predominantly undergraduate institutions," he said.  "Third, the funds will provide the needed equipment to enable his work with students and contribute to the scientific literature. This is a great day for Hope College."

Gillmore's grant will support not only his on-going research, which he conducts collaboratively with Hope students, but also additional initiatives on behalf of the college's science curriculum.  More broadly, it will enable him to establish a series of workshops to help other young scientists from throughout the Midwest as they prepare for their own careers as scholar-educators, providing them with the sort of training and insights that Gillmore would have liked to have had prior to beginning his independent faculty career in 2004.

"The vast majority of people holding post-doctoral positions at research institutions have not received training in the other activities in which they will engage at undergraduate institutions that combine teaching and research, which is where most available faculty positions are to be had," he said.  "There's a real need, and it's a need that the NSF has recently recognized explicitly in their grant proposal guide."

The workshops, which will be held every two years beginning in April 2011, will focus on career development topics ranging from how to apply for an undergraduate position, to grantsmanship, pedagogy, assessment and the tenure process.  One of the workshops will focus on the unique pedagogies and interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship particular to Hope College, so that the fellows can get a sense of how all of the components can fit together.

"Maybe one or two of the things that we do here will strike a chord and give participants something to emphasize in their own application materials and eventual faculty careers," Gillmore said.

Gillmore's own research program is focused on photochromic photooxidants.  He is exploring the same type of chemical reaction through which photo-sensitive corrective lenses darken to become sunglasses outside and lighten while inside.  Gillmore's goal is to understand and ultimately control the changes in the electronic properties that inherently accompany the color change in these dyes.  Eventual applications span a variety of materials applications.  Gillmore noted that one possibility, for example, could be the development of new high-density digital storage media - such as material the size of a sugar cube that could store a thousand DVDs' worth of information.

Hope students learn alongside Gillmore as collaborative researchers.  He typically involves three to five students from Hope College and partner two-year institutions in his research during the school year and summer.  The CAREER grant will provide summer stipend support annually for two or three of them, as well as supplies and travel money to support the entire group.

The grant also includes $115,000 for the college to purchase a new gas chromatography mass spectrometer (GCMS) in support of his research program.  The new instrument will be used by nearly half the department's 14 faculty research groups on projects of their own.  It will complement a 12-year-old GCMS already at Hope that Gillmore noted is heavily in demand, running nearly full-time day and night.

In keeping with the CAREER program's focus on education as well as research, Gillmore's award and research project will extend beyond his laboratory and into the college's curriculum in two ways.

The grant will enable his department to recruit and train upper-level students as peer leaders in the college's organic chemistry course.  The upper-level students will help facilitate groups of students working together to complete group problem sets in the course in a pedagogical model known as Peer-Led Team Learning.  This model, which Gillmore observed being used for organic chemistry during his doctoral work at the University of Rochester, is intended to give the course's students additional exposure to the sort of collaborative problem solving in which they will engage as science professionals while providing the student leaders with additional review of key material as well as crucial "soft skills" in facilitating a group.

Gillmore will also be sharing additional laboratory work with students enrolled in the college's upper-level organic chemistry laboratory course, through which students pursue independent synthesis projects.  He anticipates that his research will require materials of the sort that students in the laboratory course are able to prepare, providing them with an opportunity not simply to do their work as an academic exercise but to contribute meaningfully to an active research project.

Gillmore joined the Hope faculty as an assistant professor in 2004 and has been promoted to associate professor with the coming 2010-11 school year.  Previous external support of his work has included a Faculty Start-Up Award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation Inc., which he received immediately upon his arrival at Hope, and a Research Corporation Cottrell College Science Award he received in 2006.  He delivered an address concerning photoresponsive materials and his research program in conjunction with the college's "Winter Happening" program in January 2008.

Prior to teaching at Hope, he held a postdoctoral fellowship at Vanderbilt University.  He completed his bachelor's and master's degrees at Virginia Tech in 1996 and 1998 respectively, and his doctorate at the University of Rochester in 2003.