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Last modified: Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jill Kirsten Robinson

Distinguished Teaching Award -- The President's Award

Senior Lecturer in Chemistry
Department of Chemistry
College of Arts and Sciences
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 2002
B.S., Truman State University, 1994
Ph.D., University of Colorado-Boulder, 1999

In her eight years on the IU Bloomington Department of Chemistry faculty, Jill Robinson has faced considerable challenges: adapting to a large student population and ever-quickening electronic communication, and developing effective teaching methods for the modern classroom.

"When I was lecturing in Wyoming, the classes were only about 50 or 60 students at most, but now my class size ranges from 150 to 350 students in each class each semester," Robinson says.

With larger class sizes, Robinson has developed new strategies to engage every student individually, and she likens the educator's role to that of an air traffic controller. Robinson makes innovative efforts to reach out to all of her students, frequently visiting lab sections to see how they are progressing,and remaining in lecture halls long after classes end to meet with students in need of assistance. Robinson has found that advances in information technology and changes in the ways her students spend their time online have influenced how she teaches.

"Answering students' e-mails every couple of hours and posting pre-made lecture notes online are definitely different from what I did when I was in college and first started teaching," Robinson says. Though she sometimes misses the days of chalkboards and small discussion groups, she has marshaled resources such as a tablet personal computer, PowerPoint presentations, the use of remote response clickers, and group work assignments in large lectures to incorporate flexibility and responsiveness into her lessons.

Robinson recalls that as a graduate student in analytical and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Colorado-Boulder, she quickly fell in love with developing new instruments. She conducted research on measuring nitric oxide in the atmosphere and in human breath to evaluate the effectiveness of asthma medication, and she applies comparable inventive thinking as she strives to bring chemistry instruction up to date. David Clemmer, the Robert and Marjorie Mann Professor of Chemistry, observes, "My impression is that Jill . . . will have a broad and significant impact on chemical education."

"My goal is to help students make connections between concepts and real-world applications," Robinson says. "A great place for demonstrating the high-interest applications of chemistry, such as forensic science or alternative energy, is in the laboratory sections of my classes. For example, climate change is a major research area right now, so we have designed labs to study topics from measuring ozone to constructing solar cells and fuel cells."

Robinson's commitment to chemistry education has included participating in the Freshman Learning Project to improve problem-solving skills in Preparatory Chemistry (C103). She has also held a summer grant with the Campus Writing Center to improve scientific writing in analytical chemistry. Her analytical chemistry laboratory class is working on two projects with local companies: one testing the accuracy and precision of a microplate protein assay with Baxter Biopharma, and the second conducting an aroma and flavor analysis with the Upland Brewery.

Robinson has received the IU Board of Trustees Teaching Award three times—in 2003, 2008, and 2010. When asked to describe her teaching philosophy, Robinson keeps her response simple: "Embrace change." She says, "Eventually I would love to see every lab course tied into what professors at IU are researching or what pharmaceutical companies are working on. Having those connections with undergraduate education would be incredible."

"She has a style that creates enthusiasm among her students and that encourages their intellectual commitment," says Dennis Peters, Herman T. Briscoe Professor of Chemistry, "and she conducts herself in a rigorous scientific manner and expects the same from her students."

"Jill is routinely invited to give seminars on undergraduate curricular issues at universities and national meetings and is a recent grant panel reviewer and participant in workshops at the National Science Foundation," says Department of Chemistry Chair David Giedroc. "She has also consistently raised the financial resources necessary to support her educational and outreach goals in chemistry. All of this speaks to Jill's growing visibility on the national stage as well as her dedication to making things happen."