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Seattle University


"As Good as It Gets"

Written by Mike Thee
November 22, 2011

If you’re looking for one the most highly regarded faculty members in the United States, you don’t have to walk very far.

Vicky Minderhout, professor of chemistry, is the 2011 Washington State “Professor of the Year” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Minderhout is the first Seattle University faculty member to receive this honor and one of only 27 faculty chosen nationwide.

“Dr. Vicky Minderhout is an exemplary scholar-educator who embodies the high standard of excellence that has come to characterize Seattle University,” said Provost Isiaah Crawford. “An educator in the fullest sense of the word, Dr. Minderhout is committed to providing the very best learning experience for her students while taking a leadership role in reshaping our nation’s approach to science education. My faculty colleagues and I are immensely proud of her and congratulate her on receiving the recognition she has so rightly earned.”

Step away from the podium…  

In 1997, 17 years after joining SU’s faculty, Minderhout radically changed her method of teaching. She stepped away from the podium and assembled her students into small groups. She then challenged them to delve into their course work by actively exchanging ideas, challenging one another and building on each other’s thoughts. There was some trepidation—even resistance—at first. But in time, her new lecture-free way of teaching (also known as guided inquiry learning) was embraced by Minderhout’s students.

“I never thought I could love teaching more than I did previously, but this type of classroom is really exhilarating,” Minderhout said.

“With the traditional lecture approach, it’s like students open their heads and professors drop in a bunch of knowledge,” said Michael Quinn, dean of the College of Science and Engineering. “With Vicky’s active-teaching model, students construct their own understandings and build their own solutions.

"This, I believe, is the future of science education, and it's happening right now, right here at our university," the dean said.

Minderhout likens her post-1997 role to more of a coach, and she turns to Redhawk basketball for an analogy. “What if (head men’s basketball coach) Cameron (Dollar) just explained things but didn’t let his players try it?” she asked. “Students want to hear what their professors have to say, but I also believe they want to be actively involved in the learning process.”

At a Nov. 21 campus celebration for Minderhout, President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., called her achievement “an historic occasion at Seattle University” and lauded the chemistry professor for “the courage it must have taken to move to that kind of a coaching way (of teaching). It’s an extraordinary change she made. This is just as good as it gets at Seattle University."

Model for others 

Recognizing that other educators might benefit from a guided inquiry approach to learning, Minderhout extensively publishes and presents on the subject nationally. With Associate Professor of Chemistry Jenny Loertscher, Minderhout authored an active learning curriculum for biochemistry classes that is now being used at 50 institutions nationally.

Minderhout’s expertise is often tapped by her SU colleagues. She co-chaired the University Core Revision Committee and is now co-chairing the committee implementing the new Core.  

“Vicky’s contributions to Core Revision process were invaluable,” said Nalini Iyer, director of the Office of Research Services and Sponsored Programs, who served with Minderhout as a co-chair of the Core Revision Committee. “Vicky brought to the project a deep understanding of pedagogical issues and curriculum design. Her knowledge of outcomes-based education takes her beyond the disciplinary boundaries of chemistry and even that of science. She can engage with professors from diverse disciplines as history, nursing, management, fine arts and so on to examine what does work and what does not work in terms of general education at Seattle University.” 

Minderhout also collaborates with other educational innovators such as the Institute for Systems Biology’s Center for Inquiry Science, a Seattle-based pioneer in reshaping K-12 science education. At the Nov. 21 reception, Dana Riley Black, the center’s director, said, “Vicky is a model of how we can effectively rethink science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at the undergraduate level. We believe that the model that Vicky has embraced is the model for STEM educators as well as educational administrators across the country.”

Read the front-page Seattle Times article about Minderhout's award.