Teaching Faculty Spotlight: Katie Gesmundo
Katie Gesmundo, a member of the teaching faculty, has earned the reputation as a dynamic and effective instructor. With a PhD in Analytical Chemistry and deep-rooted love for chemical education, Katie has been instrumental in training and nurturing academic excellence. Katie serves as Co-Director of General Chemistry Laboratories.
What drew you to teaching Chemistry?
I have always been interested in teaching! My major in undergrad was Secondary Education Grades 7-12, and, for that, I was asked to pick a concentration. I loved chemistry in high school, so I studied Physical Sciences. After a few chemistry classes, I started doing research with a chemistry professor, which was very unusual for a student in the College of Education. My research adviser eventually asked if I’d ever considered teaching college chemistry since I clearly had as much of an interest in the subject as a chemistry major. It really never occurred to me, but I loved the idea! I went on to double major in chemistry, got a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry, and set a goal to find a teaching position. My position at Northwestern is truly a dream job!
In addition to teaching Analytical Chemistry, you are Co-Director of the General Chemistry Lab. What is your favorite part about working in the lab with students?
I love that the lab allows us to tackle difficult chemistry concepts through real-world problems. In Gen Chem, I love contextualizing what they’re learning in lectures with a lab that is inspired by a curiosity question, environmental challenge, or forensic task. In Analytical Chemistry, my favorite lab challenges students to critique the accuracy of a product For example, do soda samples actually contain the amount of caffeine the label claims they have? Creating an environment that allows students to ask their own questions and explore their curiosity is my favorite part!
Tell us something that inspires you about the current students you teach.
Our students are incredibly motivated to reach their goals! I love talking to students about what inspires them, why they are on their current path, and what they want to do next. Each student brings something unique to Northwestern and enriches our community. I am inspired to do my best to support their learning of chemistry, and their well-being as people, to help them along that path.
You have put in tremendous effort to facilitate online learning over the past few years which led to you winning "Most Innovative Course Site" for the Northwestern Canvas Hall of Can you expand on that experience and tell us in what ways that has shaped your classes and students?
During the pandemic, it was overwhelming to envision a lab course administered remotely. It really challenged us to think about what the real goals of a lab course were and how we could still meet them in this different Veronica Berns and I rewrote learning objectives, experiments, and assessments to facilitate a positive experience for the students. However, how everything was presented to the students was just as important as the content. I really thought through how students would interact with the digital materials, and created an easy-to-navigate, structured way to deliver the videos, quizzes, lab manuals, and assignments on Canvas. I also intentionally designed a welcoming home page with a Northwestern purple banner and kept this theme throughout the course. I was honored to be inducted into the Canvas Hall of Fame, and my favorite part of the ceremony was hearing comments from students submitted as nominations; their experience using the course was exactly what I intended.What advice do you have for young chemists interested in a career in academia?
Academic positions are not all the same! There is a huge variation in what the job of a professor looks like; positions can be research-focused, teaching-focused, a blend of the two, etc. Different institutions have different expectations, also. If a career in academia seems appealing to you, my advice is to connect with PhDs at a variety of places and talk to them about their role. Learn about their expectations, their joys, and their frustrations. You might find someone with a job that sounds perfect for you! Finding the position that celebrates your strengths and excites you is out there!Can you tell us something not on your CV that you would like us to know? One of my favorite things to do outside of Northwestern is cook! My husband and I love finding complex recipes to try on the weekends, and spending the whole day in the kitchen is fun for us. I am especially excited to start cooking with my daughter, She is only 3 months old now, but we hope she loves it as much as we do when she grows up.
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