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Teaching Faculty Spotlight: Kevin Hunter

Kevin HunterKevin Hunter, an Assistant Professor of Instruction, joined the Department in Fall 2023. He recently earned his Ph.D. at the University of Iowa with a focus on Chemistry Education, researching how to utilize expertise in chemistry content to enhance the teaching and learning of the subject. Leveraging his research on how students reason about chemical concepts, both in general and organic chemistry, he works to make the subject more approachable for a broader range of Northwestern students.

What drew you to teaching chemistry? 

I found myself gravitating towards teaching beginning in high school, and my interest was solidified in college. I think most of it came from the great mentors and teachers I had throughout my education. I was so lucky to have them, and they made such a huge impact on my life, which gave me a great admiration for teaching. The chemistry just came because I liked the courses, and it always came across as so logical to me. I loved the way there was always a deeper level explanation that I could find that always boiled down to some fundamental principles.

Can you describe your teaching style and what students should expect when taking a class with you? 

My ultimate goal is that students develop the type of scientific reasoning skills and thinking that scientists use on a daily basis. Instead of focusing on the many facts that come with chemistry, I try to emphasize those core skills like reasoning with and about data, interpreting a graph, and using mathematical reasoning to rationalize a computation. Because this is so important to me, I try to have my lectures model that reasoning as best I can and, for me, the best way to do that has been through creating a logical narrative of the topics. I focus on weaving the topics together in a story that addresses the logical questions students might have. This comes with me posing a lot of questions to students and discussing the “hows” and “whys” of chemistry.

What Chemistry class/professor did you enjoy the most as an undergraduate or graduate student and how did that inspire your teaching?  

I would have to say, Dr. Bruce Armitage. I took Organic Chemistry 2 with him as a first-year student, and it was some of the hardest I worked to grasp the material. But what sticks with me about his teaching was the way he addressed all of our questions by showing us how and why it was right or wrong. He didn’t simply answer with yes or no but followed us down the rabbit hole to get at the true underlying answer to each of our questions. Something I try my best to emulate in my teaching, now.

What is something that inspires you about teaching?  

I love teaching as a way to meet students with such diverse backgrounds and experiences. It is a joy to get to know students throughout the quarter and find out why they are taking the courses I teach and what they hope to do with their lives. I learn so much from them throughout the quarter and I hope they learn in my courses.

What advice would you give to young chemists interested in academia?  

Develop some hobbies and make some friends outside of the STEM world. Arts, food, sports, meditation. Anything that you can practice outside of science-y thinking. I have been ever-developing my interest in cooking. It started small by making some meals for myself in college and is now how I spend most of my time outside of work! It has been a great way to share with others and exercise other parts of my brain that chemistry doesn’t necessarily hit.

What is something you would like us to know about you that is not on your CV? 

Something I am proud of is my interest in film photography. I picked it up in college when I had some freedom after taking all those science classes and it has been with me ever since. I lost it a bit during graduate school because I wasn’t finding the time to do it and didn’t have access to a darkroom. But I am very excited that this winter I will be teaching a community class through the Norris Center on black and white film photography! I am excited to get back in the darkroom and help teach others about the technique.