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Nabil K.
PhD Chemistry from Georgia Tech, now Instructor at Georgia State
Educations
PhD in Polymer Chemistry, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
B.S. Chemistry, Polymer Track: Honors with Distinction, University of North Carolina

Bio

I am a part-time chemistry instructor at Georgia State University – Clarkston Campus. I graduated with my Ph. D. in Chemistry from Georgia Tech (4.0 GPA) in December 2016, where I researched solar cells’ polymer materials. I have several years of experience teaching college and high school level (IB and regular) chemistry and have always received very positive written and verbal feedback. As a teacher, my favourite moments have included helping students work through problems individually during office hours, as we investigate our approach and work our way through challenges together.

As a chemistry student and researcher at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I took plenty of math courses through differential equations and excelled in them. As I am experienced in teaching and explaining difficult concepts in ways that help students advance, this translates into the ability to tutor math subjects as well.

I have a strong belief in the value of education, especially in the sciences, which help us ask and answer questions about our universe and develop capabilities for humankind’s benefit of humankind. Having excelled in science courses in high school (scored 5 on AP Chemistry, Biology and Physics exams), and in courses and research as an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill (3.7 GPA) and then as a Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech (4.0 GPA), I have always felt comfortable working with others to help them solve problems. I was trained in teaching to become a teaching assistant at Georgia Tech. I then did a year-long GoSTEM fellowship at Georgia Tech, giving me teaching experience in a high school for regular and IB Chemistry. I have been teaching at Georgia State since January 2019.

I’m looking forward to working with you to advance our knowledge together!

What is your teaching philosophy?

My parents were high school teachers, and I spent my formative years in non-profit international schools in China, Australia and Canada, where my parents taught before we moved back to the USA when I was sixteen. As I have grown and gained experience both as a teacher in the classroom and community-building activities, I have seen the value in 1) striving to bring out special inherent capacities of students, 2) encouraging them to take ownership of their learning, 3) incorporating practice along with study, and 4) adopting a process of action, reflection and consultation in any learning process.

I believe we should not think of students as empty receptacles that we should fill with information. Rather, we should trust that everyone has qualities, capacities and interests that can only be revealed by education. While teaching IB Chemistry at Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta, I would often think about how to tie the course content to “real-world” examples and engage the students in their areas of interest. Through interactive discussions, we learned that students had an intense interest in GMOs, artificial food colouring, and global warming, for example, which were investigated further through research projects, which turned out more impressive than any other assignment we gave that year. However, this experience at Maynard Jackson was not without challenges. This was the first year that the school offered IB Chemistry, and all of us, including the students and teachers, really struggled to adapt to a level of rigour that was unprecedented for the school. Many students did not have a math background, especially because they often struggled to do basic arithmetic. I have seen up-close evidence of the inequalities in education that exist in our society. I would hope to contribute to programming that reaches a wide variety of ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I look forward to learning about how to foster an environment where everyone can advance and meet the challenges associated with catering to a wide variety of academic backgrounds. In my interactions, I will always try to look for the “gems” inherent within each student and help bring them out through discussions and informal conversations about students’ capacities and talents and how they can apply them in the workplace and for the betterment of society.

Taking ownership of one’s learning allows one to take a more active approach to his or her education and not be so dependent on the one who is teaching them. During recitations for general chemistry at Georgia Tech, I would have the students work on problems and encourage them to help each other to advance. First, I worked an example or two from the textbook on the board while asking the class to help me with each step. Then the class was split into small groups, and of course, I would walk around to assist where needed, but the primary responsibility was on each group to solve their problems. Groups also knew that they would be writing up a problem on the board to explain to the rest of the class at the end. The act of teaching their peers and articulating their methods showed them how well they really grasped the concepts. I found this to be a much better use of class time than me standing at the front of the room lecturing. However, that was certainly necessary at times and some students expressed how helpful these explanations were for them in the evaluations.

I also think that studying something in theory only without practicing it is a more limited form of education. For example, the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program is one of the community-building activities I have supported for 11 years both as a volunteer and, more recently, full-time as secretary of the Regional Baha’i Council. In this program, the training courses taken by potential animators (facilitators of junior youth groups) require study of the special attributes of the time period between 12 and 15 years of age, the role of the animator in serving as a true friend and wise advisor, and the practical steps necessary to start a junior youth group. But along each step of the way, there are practice components required, such as visiting an existing group to lend assistance, planning out your first lessons, and talking with 12-15 year-olds in your neighborhood about starting a group. We have found that all of these practice components along the way serve to make the study of the training material less abstract and engenders an enhanced understanding of the concepts. As another example in a classroom environment, in my IB Chemistry class, I had the students carry out experiments to reinforce a concept, such as a lab on Le Chatelier’s Principle, which involved the use of starch, iodine, tea, vinegar, and club soda, all inexpensive and environmentally benign materials. First and foremost, this lab was done to help students grasp important concepts regarding equilibrium. Still, it also gave students the chance to carry out chemistry in practice and apply the principles of green chemistry, facilitating discussions of social and environmental responsibility, which are broader chemistry applications.

For students who want to go even further to apply what they have learned, they can get possibly get involved with research. But where do they begin as a researcher? My view is that the process of action, reflection, and consultation is critical to the learning process. My mentoring undergraduate researchers’ approach has included regularly meeting with students to plan out some experiments, act on them, and then reflect regularly on what we have learned as we carry out research projects together. This constitutes a cyclical process of learning I have been trained to employ in my community development activities. Many times I do not have an immediate set task for these young researchers to accomplish. Still, through our consultation and exploration, we agree on fruitful paths forward for our experiments, then try them out and see what we learn before taking the next steps. During my graduate career, I mentored five undergraduate researchers. Three of the students were able to make contributions as co-authors on my publications. Three of the five students were minorities underrepresented in the sciences, including an REU student from Norfolk State, Virginia, who, by the end of her summer experience, said she was more interested in pursuing graduate school in the sciences and engineering. I believe that these experiences have prepared me well to work with diverse populations and provide a nurturing and empowering environment in making science more accessible. Of course, my teaching approaches will continue to evolve as I refine my methods based on consultation, action and reflection with others.

What might you do in a typical first session with a student?

I would get to know the student and see what they are hoping to get out of our time together. If they have a few specific questions for me, we can start talking through them and ask them conceptual questions along the way to gauge their understanding.

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

Encourage the use of resources that I have found helpful, whether those are practice problems, videos, or other tools, along with a regular checking in with others.

Teaching Skills

Subject Skill Level
Chemistry
PhD
Chemistry HL
PhD
Chemistry SL
PhD
General Maths & Science
PhD
Natural Sciences
PhD

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