Pioneering chemistry professor recognized for excellence by colleagues, students

  • Nov 9, 2018
  • Three-dimensional learning, STEM Education, Faculty, Award
  • Homepage News, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Research, Students, Chemistry, College of Natural Science, CREATE for STEM

Pioneering chemistry professor recognized for excellence by colleagues, students

Melanie Cooper, Michigan State University Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education, is the recipient of the 2018 MSU Alumni Club of Mid-Michigan Quality in Teaching Award.

Image of Melanie Cooper
Melanie Cooper, MSU Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education. Photo:  Harley J. Seeley

A world-renowned chemist and science education pioneer, Cooper holds joint appointments in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Natural Science,  the Department of Teacher Education in the College of Education and MSU’s CREATE for STEM Institute.

“I was surprised and delighted when I heard about receiving this award,” Cooper said. “I have spent my career working to try to improve large enrollment courses that many students have to take as part of their curriculum.”

A strong proponent of evidence-based curriculum reform and assessment for large enrollment chemistry classes, Cooper changed the pedagogical landscape of STEM education across MSU’s campus. Her course, Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything (CLUE), and her novel cooperative chemistry laboratory gave thousands of undergraduate students a deeper and more robust understanding of chemistry and the ability to apply their learning skills to all areas of STEM education.

“Research has shown these large enrollment courses to be crucial to continued student success,” Cooper explained, “but we also know that many students are turned off or delayed in their academic progress by courses that are unwelcoming and apparently irrelevant.”

“Melanie has been a key figure in the transformation efforts in the general chemistry program at MSU,” said Amy Pollock, academic specialist, director of general chemistry and Cooper’s nominator. “Although she has not personally taught every student who has taken the transformed general chemistry courses, she has had an indirect and lasting impact on the futures of all of these students. She is most deserving of this award, and I am very happy that her efforts are being recognized.”

Cooper, who was passionately nominated by both colleagues and students for her outstanding mentorship and innovative course design, continues to bring graduate students, postdocs, academic specialists and faculty involved in undergraduate STEM education together to share their knowledge and learn from each other’s experiences.

She is currently lead investigator of a five-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to implement an innovative teaching and learning model known as three-dimensional learning (3DL) and to examine its impact on students in terms of learning and retention in STEM as well as graduation rates.

“We have developed courses that support students as they learn to use their knowledge, and have seen some real improvements in student success,” Cooper said. “Teaching these courses brings me a great deal of personal satisfaction – I really enjoy teaching students, and to receive this award is icing on the cake!”

Cooper received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Manchester, England. Before joining MSU in 2012, she conducted postdoctoral work in organic chemistry at Clemson University and was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by the University of South Florida in 2017.

Cooper was honored at a luncheon at Wharton Center’s Jackson Lounge on Friday, Nov. 9, in conjunction with the MSU Alumni Association’s Grand Awards Gala.


Banner image: The long-term goal of three-dimensional learning (3DL) is to transform the STEM gateway curriculum so that students learn to engage with disciplinary core ideas, science practices and cross-cutting concepts in the same way that scientists do, equipping them with the knowledge and skills that support them in becoming scientifically literate citizens and successful scientists and engineers. Photo credit: Harley J. Seeley