Though Joanne Stewart is an inorganic chemist, she champions the importance of education stemming from a variety of realms.
“Finding ways to help students make connections between the things they are learning is the goal of a liberal arts education,” she says.
“I’ve always been a math and science kid,” laughs Dr. Joanne Stewart, the Elmer E. Hartgerink Professor of Chemistry. Looking at her list of accomplishments and contributions, there’s no doubt about it. She attributes fuel for her scientific interests to her middle and high school teachers, one of whom she continues to keep in touch with. Stewart’s teachers and mentors have played a vital role in her life, instilling a deeply-rooted passion for education.
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The passion has manifested as dedication to interdisciplinary learning throughout Stewart’s 30 years at Hope. Though Stewart is an inorganic chemist, she champions the importance of education stemming from a variety of realms. “Finding ways to help students make connections between the things they are learning is the goal of a liberal arts education,” she says. Her First-Year Seminar and GEMS students know this first-hand as Stewart works to incorporate opportunities for them to bring experiences from their own lives to create a link with the content in the classroom.
Stewart has played a role in developing interdisciplinary learning on a national level, specifically in a scientific context. She was a member of the 1994 team that created the ChemConnections curriculum, impacting how introductory chemistry classes are taught. “I got to go around the country and lead faculty development workshops,” Stewart says. “I really enjoyed that a lot.”
In addition, Stewart was invited to be one of 20 international fellows in the final cohort of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, a huge honor. Within this fellowship, she co-authored Connected Science, which she notes was an exciting opportunity in itself as “chemists don’t write many books outside of textbooks.”
Through these experiences, Stewart became interested in her current research direction, which delves into which types of activities best support students’ development as integrative thinkers. As a key contributor to an ongoing nation-wide collaborative study of chemistry faculty teaching practices, Stewart hopes to enable educators to become better teachers by understanding what helps students learn. Through analyzing student work, Stewart was able to develop a heuristic to describe what a moment of connection looks like as students integrate their learning.
If it’s not already obvious, students are at the core of all that Stewart does. “The reason I’m here and the reason I do all of this is because I love the students at Hope College –– and I’m serious about that. That’s my motivation. I think they’re amazing and they’ll go on and do incredible things and I love to be a part of that,” she says.