Pedagogy is a passion for new chemistry professor

Author: Kathy Jonas

If your children don't like the way the water tastes and want to know why they have to drink it, don’t answer “just because you do,” warns Julie Kessler, a new assistant teaching professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Tell them more, because their curiosity might lead them to become professors someday.

Kessler was a curious child raised in a non-scientific family in Canton, Connecticut, but said she is “a very analytical person and always wanted to understand cause and effect relationships.” 

Today, she’s passionate about teaching students chemistry – a subject some may view with dread and trepidation. “I think it is important to help a student find his or her own path to achieve their dreams. Not everyone loves chemistry, but it is a small stepping stone on their individual journey that I’m grateful to partake in,” she said. 

Kessler received her doctoral degree  in Chemistry from Notre Dame in 2017 and then was an assistant professor of Chemistry at Carroll College in Helena, Montana for four years. Her undergraduate degree in chemistry is from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. 

Part of the reason she was so excited about returning to Notre Dame was this very passion for teaching, and the Kaneb Center for Teaching & Learning, which she called an “incredible” resource. The center, located in DeBartolo Hall, provides research and programs aimed at teaching excellence through advanced methods to stimulate learning and engagement. 

“I originally pursued a tenure-track position at a small private college because I am most interested in helping students learn, which can be more hands-on in smaller classrooms,” said Kessler who thrives on the energy of a vibrant classroom. “I want students to have a great experience as a freshman and also help them develop good study habits and problem-solving strategies.”

Her credits include the Rudolph B. Bottei Graduate Teaching Award in 2017, the Striving for Excellence Teaching Certificate in 2016 and the Kaneb Center Outstanding Student Teacher Award in 2015. 

For those students who have not had much experience with chemistry, she realizes the level taught might be a challenge, especially with a large classroom size where it is difficult to achieve personal relationships. This kind of environment requires students to take more ownership of their learning and to ask for help when they need it.

Covid-19 also provided new challenges, as Kessler discovered while teaching in Montana. She said instructors were given 24 hours before going remote and found themselves scrambling around trying to make it work. But there were positives, she said, as communication could be enhanced at times as students were able to go into break rooms to work on subject matter in a virtual format.

But it’s not all work for Kessler, who belongs to three soccer leagues and is training for a half marathon in Utah during spring break. She played Division III soccer during her undergraduate years and learned a lot about the importance of student/life balance. She also likes bicycling around South Bend and the Mishawaka Riverwalk, and reading fun novels in local coffee shops on the weekend.

And not only does she love the culture of tradition and mature caliber of student at Notre Dame, she simply enjoys the atmosphere. “It’s a fun campus and it has an exciting sports atmosphere.”