Faculty Spotlight: Mark Seger, PhD. in Chemistry

“Would you rather wear a hard hat or a lab coat?” Professor Mark Seger is generally known around campus as the pyromaniac who teaches in Coolbaugh Hall. He makes the day of his students, putting on engaging demos that are not only educational but also entertaining. But what has made Mark Seger who he is today?

Seger was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to immigrant parents from Liechtenstein. Growing up in a mechanical engineering family, he eventually became the black sheep, being the only one to major in chemistry. He entered college at the age of 16, taking the first year of college as his senior year of high school. He had reached the point where he had exhausted the higher end of high school classes and “was ready to move on.”

For two years of his higher education he attended Edinboro State College in Pennsylvania before finishing his BS degree at the University of California at Riverside. Following that, he came to Colorado to obtain his PhD in Chemistry at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. However, he left before finishing his degree and entered industry.

Seger worked for a year and a half at Pfizer as an NMR spectroscopist developing new medications. He enjoyed his job, commenting “I liked the fact that what I was doing was helping people and it wasn’t just to make someone richer.” He left the company when an opportunity arose for him to work a PhD position at Air Products and Chemicals. He stayed with them for nine and a half years, working also as a NMR spectroscopist. When he was let go, it was not because of his lack of ability; rather, it was because he was working in a PhD position without having a PhD.

He returned to CSU to finish his degree and at the same time he “got the opportunity to teach.” “I taught 8-10 courses from organic chemistry to the freshmen chemistry courses” and “organic chemistry was the very first class I taught.” During that time, he came to the realization that he really enjoyed teaching and interacting with his students; “The only thing I enjoyed more than doing chemistry was talking about it.”

His career at Mines started as a full time adjunct teacher hired on a semester basis in 2003. He left three and a half years later to teach physical chemistry at the University of Northern Colorado. After completing the PhD, he returned to Mines as a Lecturer, now called Teaching Associate Professor. “In 2008 I came back to Mines as a lecturer and I have been here ever since.”

His time at Mines has left an impact on the students. In his last six and a half years here on the campus, he has taught a grand total of 7149 enrolled students in his lectures alone, not counting lab courses. He provided that he would “estimate that almost 50% of the undergraduates have had me for a chemistry course at one point in time or another.” He also would like to tell his former students that “I really appreciate the students that wave as I walk by. It’s nice to be acknowledged by former students.”

Seger shares that the freshmen chemistry courses will be undergoing a few changes in order to incorporate some of the active learning that has created the studio physics and studio biology. However, he is not looking for chemistry courses that are entirely active learning. He comments that “A full studio approach to Chemistry would not be appropriate. We are hoping for a hybrid of traditional and active learning.”

In addition to the incorporation of active learning, he is also hoping for a change in the General Chemistry II course. He offers that “there are some things that every Mines student should know but other than a few general concepts. Chem II offers the opportunity to direct it towards certain kinds of students.” One example of this change is the materials chemistry course that was piloted starting this year. It is still unclear as to whether or not the course will stay as it is still in the experimental stages.

To the undergraduate students who have not yet decided their major, Seger offers some guiding words. “Go talk to the professors in the departments that you may want to major in. You’ll find every department has a few professors that are more than willing to talk to you about it. I especially urge students to talk to undergraduate juniors and seniors of that major. They tend to be brutally honest about the courses, professors and the major itself.”

Professor Mark Seger is a professor that gives more to his students then just the knowledge to pass the class. He believes that “a good course teaches you more than what you need to know to pass the test.” He engages his students with trivia and demos; “I love doing demonstrations and Chemistry provides the best of them, but I don’t do it for a magic show. I always talk about the chemistry behind the demonstration and link it back to what is being learned.” Despite being here for six and a half years, he finds time to invest in his love of NMR and “plans on staying here [at Mines] till [he] retires.”

I am currently a sophomore at Colorado School of Mines, majoring in Chemical Engineering. My hobbies include reading, writing, and playing tennis.

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