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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

New Saint Mary’s chemistry professor hopes to drum up interest in STEM

Saint Mary’s welcomed new professor LeeAnn Sager-Smith to the science department this fall, where she has taken on the role of assistant professor of physical chemistry. 

Sager-Smith said she has had an affinity for the classroom environment since before she could remember, and her desire to be an educator grew with her. Whatever grade she was in, Sager-Smith said she wanted to teach that grade.

“I have alway loved teaching,” Sager-Smith said. “I have always wanted to be a teacher. You can ask my kindergarten teacher when she asked me what I wanted to be. I told her I wanted to be a teacher — just where I wanted to teach has changed.”

As her vision of herself as an educator changed, Sager-Smith said she began to see herself in an environment that was not just challenging for her students, but for herself too.

“The more I’ve learned, the more I’m like, ‘Oh, I want to share this higher level knowledge,’” Sager-Smith said. “I like introducing students to really complicated things and hopefully doing it in a way that makes sense.”

Sager-Smith earned her doctorate and teaching certificate from the University of Chicago, so she said she has extensive experience with teaching. During her time at the University of Chicago, Sager-Smith gained experience with general chemistry, quantum physics and collaborative learning environments.

Smaller, conversational groups are something that Sager-Smith said she values in the classroom.

“I really do like the one-on-one atmosphere,” she said.

Sager-Smith teaches general chemistry, which is a traditionally large class. In her general chemistry class at Saint Mary’s, she has 50 students. Compared with the 250-student classes Sager-Smith has previous taught, 50 students is a manageable number to make a personal connection, she said.

“But I have another class that is eight students, and that is really nice because I’ve gotten to know each of them individually and know a lot about them,” Sager-Smith said.

Sager-Smith said working at a women’s college excites her because STEM is a male-dominated field. The prospect of encouraging other women to enter her field is something she looks forward to during her career at Saint Mary’s.

“STEM, in general, is underrepresented for women, but my particular sub-discipline of the sub-discipline is even more underrepresented,” she said. “I am a theoretical physical chemist, so that means I do coding, I do math, I do physics and I do chemistry. All of those are very underrepresented, so when you get to other people that do what I do, it’s a very small percentage that are women.”

Sager-Smith said she is enthused for her new beginning at Saint Mary’s.

“I am very excited to get to expose the students here to computational chemistry and hopefully get some more people interested in that, and even if they are not, just introducing them to STEM hopefully in some way,” Sager-Smith said.