Head of the Class

Chemistry Professor names Professor of the Year by Carnegie Foundation and CASE

Written by Mike Thee
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
November 29, 2011
If you’re looking for one the most highly regarded faculty members in the United States, you don’t have to look 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,” says 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.”

Professor Minderhout is honored for her innovative method of teaching. In 1997, 17 years after joining SU’s faculty, Minderhout did something radical: 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, pushing 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 says.

College of Science and Engineering Dean Michael Quinn says, "With the traditional lecture approach, it’s like students open their heads and professors drop in a bunch of knowledge. 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."

Minderhout likens her post-1997 role to more of a coach, and she turns to Redhawks 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 asks. “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 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." (View a photo slideshow from the event.)

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.

Read more about Vicky and her unique and inspired method of teaching in the spring edition of Seattle University Magazine. And watch a video clip from the SU event honoring her as Professor of the Year.

Chemistry Professor Vicky Minderhout and President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., at the event honoring her recognition of Professor of the Year.