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Professor Wissinger receives Morse Alumni Award

Associate Professor Jane Wissinger has received the 2014 Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. This honor is awarded to exceptional candidates nominated by colleges in their quest to identify excellence in undergraduate education. In addition to honoring individual faculty members, the award contributes to the improvement of undergraduate education at the university by publicizing the honorees' work to serve as resources for the whole faculty.

Wissinger has been an instructor and professor in the Department of Chemistry for more than 20 years, and serves as the organic chemistry laboratory director. She began teaching for the Department of Chemistry in 1992 as an adjunct professor, following a five-year industrial career. She was hired to be the organic chemistry laboratory director in 1998. In 2011, she was granted non-tenure faculty status as associate professor.

She teaches the large, sophomore-level, organic chemistry lecture and laboratory courses. The organic chemistry lecture course typically has an enrollment of more than 240 students per semester. Her organic laboratory course has a growing enrollment of about 1,100 students each year. Throughout the years, Wissinger has taught more than 18,000 undergraduate students.

The laboratory course, which she developed, draws students with diverse majors ranging from the sciences to nutrition, physiology, ecology, Spanish, and pre-health. To address the interests of this diverse population, Wissinger incorporates a variety of topics relevant to every day life such as natural product isolations, new green technology, sustainable polymers (plastics), dye chemistry, flavors, fragrances, fluorescent materials, and pharmaceuticals.

She has shifted the laboratory from traditional cookbook-style experiments to question-driven and guided-inquiry experiments. She writes and publishes the manual used for the course and revises the required text on an annual basis. Last year, Wissinger also created a series of 30 laboratory technique videos, which include step-by-step how-tos on building apparatus, performing techniques, and preparing samples for analysis.

For the laboratory course, Wissinger trains and manages 26 to 33 teaching assistants each semester, which includes graduate and undergraduate students. She works with them in training sessions and in the laboratories to foster a knowledgeable, engaging, professional, and positive learning environment.

One of her students wrote, "This was by far my favorite chemistry experience. The way the manual, book, and lecture presented the material really made me enjoy learning. All too often, I found myself thinking about the chemicals in food ingredients, or the back of shampoo bottles just wondering about their synthesis."

Beyond the organic chemistry course and laboratory, Wissinger also is a research adviser for undergraduate students participating in the University's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, summer undergraduate research programs, or directed studies, graduate students and postdoctorates aspiring to enter careers in academia. Her research focuses on developing novel green and discover-based experiments, which are then tested in the organic laboratory course so that her advisees can see the efforts of their research having a direct impact on the education of others.    

Wissinger provides leadership to the chemical education community. She is a leading expert on teaching guided-inquiry organic chemistry labs and, for the third time, will be hosting and leading a workshop for the National Science Foundation this summer. The week-long workshop will train faculty members from throughout the country on how to incorporate this pedagogy into their curriculum.

She is passionate about teaching green chemistry, including the development of green chemistry experiments and laboratory practices. She shares her research results and green expertise with others at national symposiums and workshops on green chemistry education, through publications, and through her volunteer outreach presentations. Wissinger is also a member of the Department of Chemistry's Center for Sustainable Polymers and active in its efforts to educate the broader community about new sustainable polymer technologies. 

"Jane has an unwavering passion for teaching," said William Tolman, chair of the Department of Chemistry. "Her commitment to helping each student succeed, and dedication to continually improving and modernizing the content and quality of instruction in her courses has had an enormous impact on the teaching mission of the Department of Chemistry, the University, and the broader education community.

Wissinger will become a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers and will have conferred upon her the title Distinguished University Teaching Professor or Distinguished University Professor. She will receive a $15,000 award, which reflects the University's strong and enduring commitment to quality undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Minnesota. She will receive the award, Wednesday, April 16, at a ceremony at the McNamara Alumni Center. She also will be introduced to the Board of Regents at its May meeting.

Each year since 1965, the University of Minnesota has recognized a select group of faculty members with the Morse Alumni Award. Since 1990, 13 faculty members from the Department of Chemistry have received this honor, including current faculty members David Blank, Christopher Cramer, Mark Distefano, Thomas Hoye, Doreen Leopold, Kenneth Leopold, and Kent Mann.